Inside The UNC Wilmington Comeback

A 5-0 run secured the lead and eventually the win.

Rick Henninghausen scores the game winner for UNC Wilmington. Photo: Paul Rutherford — UltiPhotos.com

UNC was the most mentally solid team in the bracket. They were incapable of being undone by large leads or unfortunate circumstance. Total consistency up and down the roster saw them into the final.

That was supposed to be the story.

Up 12-8, UNC had accrued a seemingly insurmountable lead over their in-state rival UNC Wilmington in the National semifinal. The rain had come and gone, and Wilmington looked defeated. Their defense had failed to combat the grinding style of UNC, but an unwavering sense of camaraderie had them believing when no one else did.

Under the lights, UNC Wilmington mounted a comeback that shocked everyone in the stands, even themselves.

Point by point, Wilmington clawed their way back into the game with rising confidence and the strength of the best player on the field, Jack Williams.

Here’s a look at how it happened

***

Wilmington works the under cuts. Connor Russell calls timeout, pushing the game even closer to cap. Out of the timeout, Kevin Mateer finds Jack Williams for the hold. 12-9.

“We look to [Jack]. He’s our go-to whenever we need something. If we’re looking for an outlet we’re looking for Jack…he’s probably the best player i’ve ever played with, and that’s saying something.” – UNCW’s JD Hastings

Wilmington defenders begin forcing cutters deep, making Darkside challenge their athleticism. Gouchoe-Hanas underthrows a huck, and Kevin Huerta gets the block. Going the other way, Jack Williams skies two defenders on a lofty throw and dishes for the break. 12-10.

“It starts with a crack…We made a slight strategic adjustment and as soon as we did that we saw immediate results. Everybody bought in. We’re a momentum team, everyone knows that.” – UNCW coach Brian Casey

Gouchoe-Hanas throws deep to Archer again on the next point. Dalton Vestal pressures Archer enough to make the throw sail over his head. Wilmington can’t convert in the end zone, but Jack Williams gets a layout block to set up the break. Williams to Hastings for the goal. 12-11.

“It’s the only way we know how to win apparently. Winning ugly. We’ve been in that position so many times throughout my career, and when you do it over and over again, you find it deep down.” – Williams

After two turns for each team, Kyle Warfel poaches the open side to get a clutch block in the end zone. Williams puts up another pinpoint huck, this time to Matt Ellis. 12-12. 

“Today we said that we were going to need to be chaotic. A lot of times we try to minimize the ups and downs of the waves, but I told them today that if there’s a wave, we have to try and stay high.” – Casey

Kevin Mateer gets a layout block on an upline throw from Darkside. Williams hucks to Mateer, runs the full length of the field to get it back, and throws the score for the Wilmington lead. 13-12.

“We tried to stay high and keep rolling. Not allow them to get a crack back.” – Casey

UNC finally gets a hold to make it 13-13 and force double game point. On the game’s final point, UNC’s Nathan Kwon switches off Hastings to try to make a play on Williams. But after Williams catches it, Kwon leaves to go find Hastings, leaving the lethal thrower uncovered with the disc in his hands in the most important moment of both teams’ seasons.

“When we came out in the second half, I told Brian Casey that I’d rather die a hero on the field than be taken out. It’s my last game potentially, so I just said keep me out here and I’ll do what I have to do.” – Williams

Williams hucks a perfect backhand to Rick Hennighausen streaking deep. It was his ninth assist. 14-13. FINAL.

“He’s the best player in the country. He put the team on his back, and there was nothing he didn’t do in that game.” – Casey

“Ever since I’ve known the Seaman we’ve been about heart, and never giving up. Just believing. It’s part of the Seaman mentality honestly.” – Jack Williams

“We wanted to do it for the guy next to us more than anything. We know what our team has been through, in terms of the tumultuous season that we had, and it was more for the guys next to us. Austin [McGrayne] being on the sideline and Danny [Mercer] being on the sideline: we didn’t want it to be their last game.” – Hastings

They’ll take that mentality into the National Championship.

  1. Preston Thompson

    Preston Thompson has been a staff writer for Ultiworld since 2013. He is a graduate of the University of Alabama where he played for four years. He started playing ultimate in the AFDC in Atlanta, GA in 2009. You can reach him by e-mail (preston.james.thompson@gmail.com) or follow him on Twitter (@pston3).

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