When the chips were down, Lucas Sinclair stepped up.
The Hillsboro senior was instrumental in two fourth-quarters touchdowns that locked up the Trojans’ 34-13 win over Haven in last Tuesday’s bi-district playoff game at Joel H. Wiens Stadium.
The victory punched Hillsboro’s ticket to Saturday’s regional showdown with Sedgwick and kept the Trojans undefeated at 10-0.
Hillsboro had been nursing a tenuous 20-13 lead through most of the second and third quarters when starting quarterback Tyler Proffitt left the game temporarily with an ankle issue.
Sinclair stepped in and directed the final 10 plays of the 13-play drive that ended when he threw a 3-yard strike to tight end Josh Wiebe in the end zone with 8:11 left in the game.
When Hillsboro got the ball back moments later at the Wildcat 17 on an interception by defensive lineman Dylan Jirak, it was Sinclair who caught a 12-yard pass from Proffitt in the back corner of the end zone on a fourth-and-5 play with 6:11 to go.
“I cannot say enough good things about Lucas,” coach Lance Sawyer said. “Lucas is a kid that will do anything you ask of him. He is so unselfish. He came in and played lights out. He came in ready and prepared to take over the offense.
“I thought it was his first drive that really won us the game.”
Hillsboro’s two late scores ended a scoring drought that hit suddenly after the two Central Kansas League teams combined for five touchdowns in the first 14 minutes of the game.
The Wildcats threw the first punch, marching 90 yards in nine plays after the opening kickoff as the Trojans struggled to contain Haven’s inside reverse handoff. Trae Regier scored from 32 yards out with 7:16 left in the quarter for a 7-0 lead.
Hillsboro came right back with a 65-yard drive that took only five plays to complete. The big gainer came on the first play when Proffitt launched a long pass to his big-play receiver, Shaq Thiessen, for a 44-yard completion to the Wildcat 21.
Three plays later, Proffitt and Thiessen hooked up again, this time for a 17-yard score with 5:28 left in the quarter. But the Trojans still trailed, 7-6, when Jesse Brown’s kick angled left.
After a Haven three-and-out, Hillsboro launched another scoring drive, this one covering 58 yards in 11 plays. It culminated in a 2-yard touchdown run by Tyrell Thiessen. Brown nailed the kick and Hillsboro led 13-7 with 1:17 left in the first quarter.
The back-and-forth continued when Haven launched an 82-yard drive that ended eight plays later with a 7-yard touchdown run by Samuel Fritzemeier. This time, Haven missed the PAT kick and the game was tied at 13 with 10:24 left in the half.
Hillsboro struck back one last time on its next possession. A personal foul by Haven at the end of the kickoff return gave the Trojans the football at the Haven 46. A 16-yard run by Tyrell Thiessen, followed by a 30-yard pass to Shaq Thiessen, put Hillsboro in the end zone again for the 20-13 lead with just under 10 minutes left in the half.
The scoring then ended for the rest of the first half and much of the second, thanks in large part because of Hillsboro’s adjustments on defense and its miscues on offense.
The reverse handoff that Haven ran so effectively in the first half all but disappeared after halftime.
“That play did kill us the first half,” Sawyer said. “I bet three-fourths of the yardage they had was off of that play. We told the linebackers that they needed to stay home and read a count longer. We also just told them that we needed to come out and play more physical.
“I thought in the second half we came out and played a more physical football game.”
As for the mistakes, twice the Trojans blew scoring opportunities in the red zone when shotgun snaps misfired between center and quarterback. In addition, an interception at the Haven 13-yard line short-circuited a Trojan drive early in the third quarter.
Hillsboro’s overall effectiveness on offense was evident in the Trojans’ 453-285 edge in total yards. Hard-running Tyrell Thiessen led the ground attack with 93 yards on 19 carries. Proffitt added 81 yards on 17 carries and threw for 201 of Hillsboro’s 249 aerial yards on 17-for-30 passing.
Though Hillsboro has made it to bi-district play for seven consecutive years, this was the Trojans’ first victory since 2009.
“I thought it was a great win for our team,” Sawyer said. “Haven was a well-prepared and physical football team. It got us past the hump that has slowed down this team for a couple years.
“It gave us a lot of confidence for the upcoming games that if we limit our mistakes, we can play with anybody.”