ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
Kept in the game by a dominating defense, the Hillsboro Trojan offense redeemed a subpar first half with a sparkling second-half performance en route to a 24-6 win over Smoky Valley in Lindsborg Friday night.
The Trojan offense stumbled out of the gate against the Vikings, giving up an interception, a blocked punt and three lost fumbles through the first two quarters.
The third fumble, this one out of the arms of running back Kris Jones with less than two minutes left in the half, set up the Vikings’ only score of the night.
Smoky Valley recovered the ball on the 16-yard line, then scored four plays later on a six-yard flare pass from quarterback Mark Sandbo to running back Kirk Humphrey with 35 seconds to play before intermission. The point-after kick sailed left to keep the lead at 6-0.
Considering the rash of first-half turnovers, Trojan coach Dustin McEwen said he actually was encouraged as his team headed for the locker room at halftime.
“They weren’t stopping us, we were,” he said. “We punted three times, but really we stopped ourselves. (We had) three turnovers and a blocked punt, but we gave up only six points because we played great on defense.”
The Trojans came out in the second half and finally established themselves on offense, rolling up 124 rushing yards and two touchdowns in the third quarter alone.
The first score came on the first possession of the half as the Trojans, following a 36-yard kickoff return by Ross Duerksen, drove 53 yards in six plays. On third and two at the Smoky Valley 27, running back Alan Yoder slipped practically untouched through the middle of the defense and scored with 8:38 left in the quarter.
Quarterback Dustin Jost then hit Layne Frick with a pass for the two-point conversion to give Hillsboro an 8-6 advantage.
After trading possessions over the next three series, Hillsboro scored again when Duerksen, starting at the Smoky Valley 28-yard line, cut off left tackle, then broke outside for the touchdown with 3:43 remaining in the quarter.
This time Jost hit Adam Woods with the two-point conversion pass to give Hillsboro a firm 16-6 lead.
The Trojans added a third score in the final quarter. Starting on their own 49-yard line, Hillsboro slowly but surely marched down the field and scored in 11 plays when Jones stepped into the end zone standing up on a one-yard effort.
Jones followed with a great two-point run, reaching the ball across the goal line as he was tackled. That gave his team the final 24-6 margin with 8:55 still to play.
McEwen said his offense simply lacked confidence in the early going.
“I think we weren’t sure at first how good we were as a team,” he said. “I don’t know that we’re 48-6 better-if we had played the first half as good as we did the second half-but I think definitely that first half was getting some bugs out of their team and deciding how good we thought we could be.”
The constant element of the Hillsboro attack all night was its defense, which gave up only 114 yards rushing on 42 carries and only 38 yards passing, allowing only five completions in 19 attempts.
Senior noseguard Ronnie Davis led the defense with three tackles, eight assists and a sack. Andrew Hein added one tackle and seven assists.
Offensively, Jones rolled up 102 yards rushing on 12 carries. He punished a lot of would-be tacklers along the way with some bruising runs.
“That’s Kris,” McEwen said. “He goes 100 miles an hour. He had a couple of fumbles, but you look at the yards Kris gets after contact, it’s pretty impressive.”
As a team, the Trojans finished with 248 rushing yards. Duerksen tallied 71 yards on 12 carries and Yoder added 62 yards on six carries.
Though he added only 25 yards on five carries, fullback Phillip Terrell, who sat out last week with an injured toe, was a key contributor for Hillsboro because of his blocking, McEwen said.
“Running this attack is going to take four running backs and we had them tonight,” he said.
Prior to the game, the crowd paused for a moment of silence in honor of the victims of the terrorist attack earlier in the week.
“It was kind of a tough week,” McEwen said after the game. “But I think it’s OK to come and play. It’s definitely changed our lives forever, but we still have Friday-night football that we can come and play. That’s part of the American Way, if you ask me.”
This Friday, the Trojans will make the long trek to Ellinwood to take on the Mid Division Eagles, who are 1-2 on the season after beating Nickerson last week. Game time is 7 p.m.