The Swathers clinched the District 11 title with a 35-22 victory at Reimer Field in only two rounds of district play.
“They’re just big, and they saddled up to match it,” Hillsboro coach Len Coryea said of a worthy opponent. “I thought we played as hard as we could play.”
Hesston seemed poised to take control after establishing a 14-0 lead after one quarter on a pair of touchdown passes from quarterback Michael Janzen—one of 40 yards to Lee Voth-Gaeddert and the other a 22-yarder to John Reimer.
But Hillsboro refused to accommodate, scoring a touchdown of its own on a 7-yard scamper by Ishmael Morris with 28 seconds left in the half.
The touchdown was set up by a spectacular interception by Daniel Jost along the near sideline that gave Hillsboro the ball at the Trojan 27-yard line with 1:53 left.
Two plays later, quarterback Spencer Brown connected with Jost on a deep pass along the Hesston sideline for a 59-yard gain to the Swather 9. Morris scored three plays later and Brown kicked the extra point.
The touchdown provided Hillsboro with some much needed momentum as the two teams headed to their respective locker rooms with a 14-7 score.
But Hesston was not shaken by the late turn of events. Instead, the Swathers flexed their considerable muscle, took the second-half kickoff and drove 63 yards in 12 plays. Brett Leichty scored from five yards out at the 5:51 mark.
With more than half of the quarter elapsed, the Trojans tried to advance the ball from their own 21. On third and 11, Brown connected with Jost over the middle for a big 20-yard gain.
But on the very next play, Brown lost 19 yards trying to salvage a fumble. That led to a Trojan punt from the 21-yard line that Hesston’s Reimer returned all the way back to the Trojan 22—a net difference of one yard on the change of possession.
Three plays later, Janzen scored on a 1-yard sneak. The kick by Voth-Gaeddert gave Hesston a 28-7 lead with only 1:07 left in the quarter.
To their credit, the Trojans battled back again. Following a touchback on the kickoff, Hillsboro marched 80 yards in 12 plays with Morris scoring again, this time from 6 yards out. Brown’s kick made it 28-14 with 6:32 left in the game.
Brown’s 17-yard pass to Jost and a 21-yarder to Yoder helped set up Morris’ scoring scamper around left end.
Hesston answered with a touchdown on a 7-yard run by Janzen to cap a 10-play, 53-yard drive with 2:47 left in the game.
Down 35-14, Hillsboro persevered once more, driving 70 yards in five plays—including a 23-yard scramble by Brown followed immediately by a 41-yard pass from Brown to Jacob Yoder that gave the Trojans a first-and-goal at the Swather 1.
Yoder scored on the next play with 9 seconds remaining. Brown threw to Jost for two more points and the 35-22 final margin.
The Swathers, with a significant size advantage in the line, all but shut down the Trojan running game. Hillsboro finished with a season-low 84 yards on 42 carries, including zero net yards from the usually elusive Brown, who ran the ball 14 times, and only 33 yards on 17 carries from the usually powerful Yoder.
Morris, meanwhile, enjoyed one of his best games of the season, finishing with a team-high 51 yards on 11 carries.
“Ishmael started running hard again this week,” Coryea said. “He’s got the ability, he just has to get his head in the game and go.”
What the Trojans lacked in ground transportation, they gained in the air. Brown threw for a season-high 253 yards on 10-for-16 passing. Jost accounted for 142 of those yards on five catches while Yoder added 99 on four catches.
Hesston’s line played well on the offensive side of the ball, too, springing Swather runners for 252 yards on 41 carries—more than six yards per attempt.
“You find out how hard it is to find the ball on offense when you can’t see,” Coryea said of the Swathers’ size. “You’ve got to look around them, and they’re not going to let you.”
Michael Petrocci and Leichty led a flock of five Hesston runners who finished with double-digit yardage, picking up 88 and 84, respectively.
The win improved Hesston’s record to 8-0 overall, 5-0 in the Central Division and 2-0 in district play, Hillsboro dropped to 4-4, 1-4 and 1-1.
“We still haven’t played to the best of our ability, but we played well tonight,” Coryea said. “This may have been the best game we’ve played since Sterling.”
The Swather win guaranteed Hesston a berth in bi-district play. Hillsboro, meanwhile, will need a victory over the pass-happy Remington Broncos on Thursday to advance beyond the regular season.
Bronco quarterback Cole Cherryholmes threw 42 times in a 36-12 win over Marion on Friday. He completed 24 throws for 387 yards.
“Cherryholmes is good,” Coryea said. “He’s probably the best quarterback we’ll see all year. If we can run the ball and score and eat the clock and not allow them to catch long bombs, I think we’ll be OK.”
Kickoff at Reimer field is at 7 p.m. If the Trojans win on Thursday, they would advance to bi-district play against the winner of District 12, which would be Sedgwick. That game would be Tuesday, Oct. 30.