As the opposition improves, so does the Hillsboro football team. The Trojans played four full quarters, cut down on their penalties and dominated a previously undefeated Nickerson team, 28-6, Friday at Joel H. Wiens Stadium.
“This was huge for us,” first-year coach Lance Sawyer said as his team improved to 3-0. “Everybody was ranking Nickerson above us.”
On this night, the Trojans were the better team on both sides of the ball. On offense, Hillsboro again capitalized early on its explosive passing game. On the fifth play of the Trojans’ first possession, quarterback Tyler Proffitt connected with all-league wide receiver Shaq Thiessen for a 36-yard scoring pass four minutes into the game. Jesse Brown’s kick made it 7-0.
Nickerson, a team that exploded for 50 second-half points the previous week against Hesston, had its best moment when quarterback Ryan O’Toole connected with running back Tyler Owen over the middle for a 21-yard touchdown pass as time ran out on the first quarter.
But Trojans Dylan Jirak and Josh Davidson stopped O’Toole on a two-point conversion run to preserve the lead at 7-6.
The game turned on the Trojans’ next possession. Two plays into it, Proffitt and Thiessen hooked up again, this time for a 62-yard bomb that obliterated any momentum Nickerson might have developed. Brown’s kick made it 14-6 with 11:07 left in the half.
After the Panthers went three-and-out, Hillsboro started at its own 30 and marched 70 yards in 11 plays for its third score of the night.
This time, running back Tyrell Thiessen took center stage, carrying the football five times for 23 yards—including a five-yard score—and caught a Proffitt pass for 18 yards. Shaq Thiessen’s kick made it 21-6 with 4:02 left in the half.
“Coaches have been telling me we need to run the ball a bit more—I decided maybe I should listen to them,” Sawyer said with a smile. “Tyrell is a force. He had only nine carries coming into this game, so we knew we had to come into the game giving him the ball. He’s a big kid and he’s hard to bring down.”
Hillsboro’s defense then stepped up in a huge way as Nickerson threatened to retaliate before halftime. Starting its possession at the 50-yard line after Hillsboro tried a pooch kick, the Panthers were at the Trojan 17 six plays later, facing a fourth-and-11.
O’Toole then hit Owen over the middle for a first-and-goal at the 3-yard line with less than a minute left. But Hillsboro’s Evan Ollenburger stopped Owen for a two-yard loss, and O’Toole’s next pass fell incomplete. A quarterback draw moved the ball to the 2-yard line, but Tanner Jones stopped O’Toole’s next run to keep Nickerson out of the end zone as time ran out.
“That kept the momentum on our side,” Sawyer said of the goal-line stand. “If they had gotten that, who knows how it would have turned out.”
The Trojans put themselves in the driver’s seat by adding a fourth touchdown in the third quarter after an interception by Shaq Thiessen gave Hillsboro the ball at the Panther 18. Two plays later, Proffitt swept the left end for the score. Brown’s third PAT set the final margin at 28-6 with 5:41 left in the third quarter.
Over the remainder of the contest, Nickerson had the ball at, or inside, the Trojan 30-yard line four times. But Hillsboro came up with big plays on defense to keep the Panthers out of the end zone—once on a fumble recovery by Tyrell Thiessen, once on an interception by Ollenburger in the end zone, once on a fumble recovery by Cody Delk and then on downs.
“Our kids fought,” Sawyer said. “It was all on our defense. We held a team that was scoring 40-some points a game to six. Our defense played extremely well.”
Shaq Thiessen finished the game with two interceptions to go with his two touchdown receptions. He caught four passes for 110 of Hillsboro’s 158 passing yards.
“He’s an athlete,” Sawyer said. “He gets a lot of credit, but a lot of people do good things just to get him in that position. Our line blocked extremely well.”
The non-divisional win kept Hillsboro’s Mid Division record to 2-0. Nickerson fell to 2-1 overall and remains 2-0 in the Central Division.
Coming—The Trojans will play its second straight non-divisional game Friday when the team travels to Hesston to take on the 1-2 Swathers.