ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
A 19-point third-quarter explosion created a deep enough bunker for Hillsboro to survive a furious Haven blitzkrieg late in the game and claim a 31-20 conquest in the season opener for both teams.
In their first confrontation on the gridiron, the Trojans had established a 12-0 beachhead by halftime on the strength of two interceptions-one by Tyler Peachey, who ran the ball back 15 yards for a score late in the first quarter, and the other by Caleb Marsh that set up a 32-yard scoring strike from quarterback Dustin Jost to Peachey with 2:17 to go before intermission
Hillsboro followed that same script to open the decisive third quarter. Kris Jones, flying horizontal with the field, intercepted another pass from Wildcat quarterback Andy Meyer just 20 seconds into the half.
Six plays later, Alan Yoder barreled across the goal line from one yard out to make the score 18-0 with 9:10 left in the quarter.
Moments later, Meyers burned Jost in the defensive backfield with a 45-yard bomb to Wes Haines to the Trojan 3-yard line. Andy Dirks ran the ball in on the next play to cut the margin to 18-6.
But the Trojans came right back.
Sparked by a 24-yard pass from Jost to Jones down the right sideline, and a nice 10-yard juke up the middle by Marsh, Yoder scored again from a yard out. Marsh then registered Hillsboro only successful point-after attempt to raise the lead to 25-6 with 5:40 left in the quarter.
Hillsboro added one more touchdown less with 1:56 to go on Marsh’s 38-yard touchdown scamper around left end.
What transpired next will depend on one’s perspective. Either the Trojans figured the war was won and it was time to take some R&R, or the Wildcats heroically decided to empty its arsenal in a desperate gamble to turn the tide.
Powered by Meyer’s scrambling legs and prodigious right arm, Haven struck back with two touchdowns in the first three minutes of the fourth quarter. The first came on Meyer’s three-yard scramble, the second on his 43-yard strike to Jeremy Krocker down the left sideline.
Suddenly, the score was 31-20, with 9:20 still left in the game.
Meanwhile, the Trojans couldn’t sustain a drive to run some clock and keep Haven’s offense off the field.
With Meyer filling the night sky with passes, the Wildcats continued to threaten. But a couple of great tip-always by defensive backs Brodie Unrau and Marsh-each on fourth-down passes deep in Hillsboro territory and with less than six minutes to play-thwarted Haven’s miracle finish.
Hillsboro coach Dustin McEwen, appearing pleased but relieved at game’s end, said the contest turned into “a tale of different quarters.”
“At the beginning of the game, they came out with more of what (the coaching staff) would like to run against teams-their doubles, their running plays,” he said. “By the end of the game, you got into what the kids like to play.”
By the time the final gun sounded, the two teams had combined for 58 passes-23 were caught by an offensive player and seven by a defender.
Meyers, who accounted for 40 of those passes, finished with 257 yards on only 12 completions. His four interceptions were pivotal to the outcome.
Jost, meanwhile, completed 11 of 19 passes for 182 yards and had three interceptions.
Haven held the edge in total offense, 421 yards to 357.
Despite some uneven play in the first half and a letdown in the final quarter, McEwen said he generally was pleased with what he saw from his troops for a season opener.
“I think we walk away with some positives-not only a victory, which is one of the things we were worried about, but just coming out here and playing well,” McEwen said.
“I didn’t doubt what this team could become because of the talent that’s on it,” he said. “But when you have as many kids who haven’t played (much varsity), as a coach I was probably as nervous for this game as I have been for a couple of years-just not knowing how we would react to different things, and not knowing for sure what (Haven) was going to come out with.”
McEwen said his offense executed well, and commended the play of his running backs-Yoder, Jones and Marsh, who combined for 138 of Hillsboro 175 rushing yards on 27 carries.
“I thought all three running backs had times when they really looked sharp,” he said.
McEwen also liked the play of his two primary receivers, Shawn Hughbanks and Steven Chisholm, who combined for 125 yards on nine receptions.
“Hughbanks hung on to the ball real well, and Chisholm made some saving-grace type catches because of his height,” McEwen said. “Those are things we’ve had in the past, and it’s nice to see that hopefully those guys are going to rise to that occasion now.”
The Trojan coach also praised the play of his new and relatively inexperienced offensive line.
“They realized tonight what it really means to be tired in a football game, to really have to lay it on the line when you are dead tired,” McEwen said. “I thought they really did well. They protected well, they picked up things well.”
The numerous incomplete passes expanded the second half to almost two hours. In the summer heat, both teams were cramping up and wearing down-despite official timeouts for water breaks.
“I think conditioning played a big part in this one,” McEwen said. “I’m pleased with what went on and with the way they reacted.”
Coming-The Trojans be on the road again his Friday, taking on Nickerson of the MCAA Central Division. Game time is 7 p.m.
A preview of that game will be published in this week’s Free Press Extra.