ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
To win the big games you’ve got to make the big plays.
The Hillsboro Trojans had their chances last Tuesday against an evenly matched opponent. But in the end it was the Riley County Falcons who rose to the occasion and earned a 24-12 win in this bi-district rematch from a year ago.
The game’s defining moment came late in the second quarter. Already leading 12-6, the Falcons had driven 52 yards in six plays to a first-and-goal at the Trojan 10.
With the help of a holding call that nullified an apparent touchdown run and an ineligible-receiver call that nullified a pass completion, it appeared the Trojans’ red-zone defense would thwart the Falcon threat.
But on fourth-and-goal at the 16, Falcon quarterback Jordy Nelson stepped back and whipped a lateral pass to wide receiver Weston Steiner. Steiner then threw the ball back across the field to Nelson, who grabbed it and tightroped the sideline for the touchdown with 44 seconds to play.
“It was a similar play to what they ran last year against us, but we knocked it away in the end zone,” said coach Dustin McEwen. “That was big.”
It also was a recurring theme throughout the night. At key points, the Trojan defense came close, but simply couldn’t close the deal.
In the second quarter, the Falcons’ second touchdown came on fourth-and-goal when Nelson threw a four-yard strike to his brother, Mike.
Early in the third quarter, the Falcons added a fourth touchdown on a third-and-28 call. This time, Nelson connected with Steiner on a 38-yard bomb to put Hillsboro in a deep and ultimately fatal hole, 24-6.
For Hillsboro, the night truly was Halloween-esque at times.
While the Falcons came up with big plays, the Trojans frequently put themselves in harm’s way with key and uncharacteristic mistakes, including two interceptions, a lost fumble, several dropped passes and some untimely penalties.
The Falcons’ game-sealing touchdown was set up by a low snap to Trojan punter Adam Woods, who picked up the loose ball but then slipped on the soft midfield mud as he tried to hurry his punt. The resulting mis-kick resulted in a four-yard loss and gave the Falcons the ball at the Trojan 23.
“It seemed like we couldn’t buy a ball bouncing our way,” McEwen said. “It’s unbelievable some of the things that happened. At the same time, we’ve got to overcome some of those things and make some good things happen.”
And some good things did. The Trojans capitalized on Carson Greenhaw’s recovery of a Falcon fumble with a seven-play, 48-yard scoring drive midway through the second quarter.
The touchdown came when wide receiver Layne Frick worked himself free in the end zone and caught a 20-yard rope from a scrambling Ronn Coates.
Neither team converted an extra-point conversion all night.
The Trojans’ only other sustained drive came in the fourth quarter. Starting from its own 11, Hillsboro rode the passing of Coates and the running of Ross Duerksen to the 40-yard line.
Dustin Jost then relieved Coates at quarterback and, switching to an option-style attack, the sophomore took the team the rest of the way.
Once again, Frick registered the touchdown, hauling in an eight-yard pass from Jost, who also contributed 24 rushing yards to the drive.
“We needed to do something to change up the pace a little bit,” McEwen said about the quarterback change. “(The Falcons) were getting comfortable with what we were doing. Dustin came in and gave us a little different look and did a nice job with it.”
The touchdown closed the gap to 24-12 with 6:14 to play, but the Trojans had run out of tricks.
With the loss, Hillsboro ended its season with a 7-3 record.
“I thought this team improved dramatically from the first of the year until now,” McEwen said afterward. “I thought we improved after Smoky and improved after Collegiate (losses) instead of going the other way. They stuck together.
“I thought they played hard, gave it everything they had, and didn’t give up. You can’t ask for a whole lot more than that-except maybe a few breaks or a few big plays that could have made a difference.”
ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF