In Finals return, FEU already exceeded expectations for this season
"Now that we're back in the Finals, we're gonna go all the way, then." - FEU head coach Vince Santos
For the Far Eastern University men's football program, UAAP Season 78 was simply forgettable.
Coming from back-to-back titles, the Tamaraws dipped to fifth place and missed out on the Final Four for the first time since UAAP Season 73. A lot of those who watched that team were left scratching their heads, wondering what had happened to the once seemingly unstoppable machine from FERN.
It's not like they lacked talent.
The Season 78 FEU Tamaraws were led by a high-scoring Eric Giganto, Paolo Bugas, who was coming off National Team call-ups, and a cast of impressive rookies including Rico Andes, and future team captain Val Jurao.
On paper, that team could have completed a three-peat, or at least make the finals.
But they didn't. Not even close.
"Nag-kanya kanya kami." Was a reason that was thrown around a lot last season for the Tamaraws.
Fast forward over a year later, and the Tamaraws are back in the Finals and gunning for their third championship in four years, and as FEU head coach Vince Santos said, "It feels really good."
Before they got to this point however, there were a lot of changes that were made, and it started at the top.
For starters, long-time coach Kim Chul Su, or "Master Kim" as he was more affectionately called, was no longer at the helm. Taking over was Santos, and he brought in Bobae Park as an assistant.
Another visible change that could be seen with the Tamaraws was that they were a lot more cohesive, on and off the pitch.
And while they still had a ton of talent in their roster, adjustment and a short preseason was taken into consideration by the FEU management when it came to goal-setting.
"Honestly, when we had to make a sudden change in the start of the season, the target given to us by management was just to get back into the Final Four." Santos revealed.
The boys in on the pitch however, had other plans as they edged out defending champions University of the Philippines, Thursday afternoon.
After charging through the target that management had set for them, they now set their sights on the ultimate target: a championship.
"Now that we're back in the Finals, we're gonna go all the way, then." Santos said with confidence.
It will be easier said than done for FEU however, as they take on top-seeded Ateneo in the Finals. Many would say that the former back-to-back champions are the underdogs based on performances this season, with their first round matchup ending in a draw, and their second round meeting ending with a dominant win for Ateneo.
Santos feels a bit differently, however.
"Judging from the results in the first and second round, Ateneo are the favorites, but to be honest, with the form that the FEU boys have been showing, I'm pretty confident coming into the finals."
Can that confidence translate into another championship for the Tamaraws? We'll all find out on Sunday.
Ateneo and FEU will battle for the UAAP Season 79 Men's Football crown on Sunday, May 7th, 3:00 PM at the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium.
Catch the LIVE telecast on S+A channel 23, S+A HD channel 166, and livestreaming on sports.abs-cbn.com/livestream/uaap