|Quarterback Spencer Brown hands off to Jacob Yoder as Nickerson’s Jon
Rohling tries to cut off the outside. Yoder ran for 186 yards and four
Hillsboro led the game from the start when Jacob Yoder capped a 67-yard opening possession with a four-yard touchdown burst.
A missed extra-point kick proved to be an omen of things to come, but it seemed inconsequential at the time as the Trojans dominated both sides of the ball in the early going.
The flow of the game changed, but the Trojans still maintained a 24-16 lead with just over seven minutes left to play.
Coach Len Coryea hoped to run out the clock. But after picking up an initial first down, a holding penalty followed by a seven-yard loss on a fumble put the Trojans in a deep hole that forced a punt with 3:47 to play.
Nickerson, which had morphed from bumbling beginners to an irresistible force over the course of the contest, took over at the Trojan 44-yard line and drove relentlessly toward the goal line.
With only 23 seconds remaining and the ball on the Trojan 1-yard line, Panther running back Clay McConnell plowed into the end zone to cut Hillsboro’s lead to 24-22.
The Trojans still could have escaped with the win by stopping the 2-point conversion. But Weston Cottrell took a pitch from quarterback Mace Krol and ran it in for the tie.
Refusing to concede an overtime, Hillsboro appeared to pull a last-second miracle when Spencer Brown threw the ball to a wide open Daniel Jost downfield on a hook-and-ladder play.
But the apparent touchdown was called back because the Trojans had multiple linemen downfield illegally.
That error set up the overtime, with momentum swinging Nickerson’s way. Hillsboro won the coin toss and let the Panthers take first possession from the 10-yard line.
Three plays later, McConnell squeezed across the goal line for the touchdown, and kicker Brandon Engelland added the extra point to give the home team its first lead of the night, 31-24.
But the Trojans refused to yield. Three straight runs by Yoder put Hillsboro in the end zone. Trailing by a point, coach Len Coryea opted for the 2-point conversion win.
Yoder burst off left tackle, but the Panther defense stopped him literally inches away from the goal line to preserve the victory.
“I’m disappointed but not discouraged,” Coryea said afterward.
Early in the contest, it appeared Hillsboro might come close to matching last year’s 40-0 blowout win. After Yoder’s opening score, Nickerson lost 19 yards on its first two plays, then bobbled a third-down snap.
Hillsboro returned the ensuing Panther punt to the Nickerson 29-yard line. But when Brown was sacked on third down at the 24, Hillsboro had to punt.
That missed opportunity, followed by a lost fumble on Hillsboro’s next possession marked the start of a momentum swing.
After recovering the fumble, Nickerson drove to the Trojan 10-yard line in five plays before settling for a 27-yard field goal by Engelland with 1:01 left in the opening period.
But Hillsboro did strike back after Daniel Jost intercepted a Krol pass with 8:40 left in the first half. The Trojans drove the remaining 39 yards in nine plays, with Jost snagging a third-down touchdown pass from Brown at the 6:47 mark.
Trying to make up for their missed point-after kick, the Trojans went for two. But Brown’s pass to Yoder fell incomplete.
Nickerson then launched an impressive ground assault, marching 71 yards in only eight plays—all runs—and scoring on a 12-yard burst by Cottrell with 3:57 to go.
Engelland’s kick was true, closing the gap to 12-10, a score that stood until halftime.
The Trojans got a big break on the first play of the second half when McConnell fumble away the ball. The Trojans took over on the Panther 40 and scored three plays later when Yoder burst up the middle for the final 10 yards.
Another 2-point pass attempt fell incomplete, but HHS led, 18-10, and seemed to be in control.
But Nickerson picked up where it left off before halftime, this time marching 67 yards in eight running plays with Cottrell scoring up the middle from 15 yards out.
Trailing 18-16, the Panthers went for the tie. But the Trojans stopped McConnell on the conversion run to maintain the lead.
Hillsboro again struck back quickly, blitzing 62 yards on five running plays. Yoder made the last three carries, which resulted in 45 yards and and a touchdown with 6:00 left in the third period.
Brown’s run for two points was stopped short, giving Hillsboro its ill-fated 24-16 lead.
Coryea said two key factors led to the game’s disappointing outcome. One was critical mistakes made by a relatively young and inexperienced team.
“This looked like a first game for new kids,” he said. “Pass routes didn’t get run right, formations didn’t run through right—these were all first-game mistakes by rookie kids.
“We just made too many little mistakes when we got into scoring position. We were so close to executing for four more touchdowns.”
The other factor was Nickerson’s size advantage in the trenches.
“We got into a push and shove match—and they’re big,” Coryea said. “We knew if we got into a push-and-shove match we’d have a fight on our hands.
“A year ago we could look over their shoulders,” he added. “But our boys can’t look over big linemen this year. We have to figure out a way to get it done on the line—and our linebackers are all new.”
Nickerson used its leverage to roll up 377 yards on the ground on 67 carries.
“They just wore us down,” Coryea said. “We were fatigued.”
For all their shortcomings, the Trojans did show promise on offense, rolling up 283 yards on 37 carries and adding 81 yards through the air on 7-for-15 throwing by Brown. Jost caught all seven completions.
Yoder was explosive on the ground, finishing with 186 yards and four touchdowns on 19 carries. In his varsity debut, junior Ishmael Morris added 86 yards on 11 carries.
Coryea said Nickerson has taken big strides under new coach Max Heinlein. But he’s not counting his own squad short either.
“We’re not that bad—the effort was outstanding,” he said. “I think we have a good chance to be a bunch of scrappy guys before we’re done, and we’ll surprise people.”
Coming—The Trojans, 0-1 overall and in the MCAA Central Division, will be in Haven on Friday to take on another Central Division foe in the Wildcats, who lost to Smoky Valley in its opener, 43-7.
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.