After one of the most difficult weeks of his career, Wheaton College football coach Mike Swider enjoyed seeing his fourth-ranked Thunder play like one of the best teams in Division III.
Wheaton remained undefeated with a 40-15 victory on a hot Saturday afternoon at CCIW rival Elmhurst College.
Earlier in the week five Thunder players turned themselves in to authorities on charges connected to alleged hazing of a teammate. None of the five played Saturday.
"It's been an emotional week and a difficult week, for obvious reasons," Swider said. "And our kids really responded. They love their brothers, they love their team. They love football and they love Wheaton. They played for each other."
The Thunder (4-0, 2-0) started a little slowly, giving up a touchdown and 2-point conversion to the Bluejays on their first drive of the game. But by halftime the Thunder led 16-8 and was on its way to scoring 40 straight points between Elmhurst touchdowns.
"They responded and they responded like champions do," added Swider, the coach at Wheaton since 1996. "You knew when the game started that your kids were going to just …. I mean it's 18-, 22-year-old kids. It's hard, what they went through. But they responded well."
Elmhurst (1-3, 1-1) saw good things from its players also.
"We're continuing to grow as a program, grow as a team," said Elmhurst coach Ron Planz. "I mean, they're the fourth-ranked team in the country for a reason. They've got good football players. They've got good coaches over there. Maybe we ran out a little bit of gas. I don't know, we'll have to check the film, but I know our guys played till the end, and I was proud of them for that."
The Thunder pulled away in the fourth quarter, taking a 40-8 lead with three more touchdowns, including two 50-yard runs to the end zone by freshman backup running back T.J. Williams.
"The heat and everything will wear you down, the heat will wear you down," Swider said. "The heat and the physicality of the game. We basically just took over the game up front."
But there was no doubting this was an emotional victory for Wheaton.
"It's good," said senior linebacker Luke Sahly, a Wheaton North graduate. "It's still going to be tough moving forward, but all we can do is play football right now. The field is really our sanctuary when we're out there. We can really just commit to playing ball and being with our teammates."