ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
A good defense covers a multitude of sins, too.
Hillsboro’s defense stepped up big when the offense made several first-half mistakes and powered the Trojans to a 35-0 win over Sterling Friday in Sterling.
Twice in the first seven minutes of the game, the Trojans turned the ball over inside their own 25-yard line, and twice the defense kept the Black Bears off the board.
On Hillsboro’s opening possession, Sterling’s Jeremy Flickinger stepped in front of Caleb Marsh and picked off a Dustin Jost pass to give Sterling a first down at the Hillsboro 24.
But thanks to the Trojans’ defensive surge, the Black Bears lost three yards in four offensive plays and gave the ball back to Hillsboro.
Six plays later, Jost broke off left tackle and ran 38 yards for the score. Marsh’s point-after made it 7-0 with 6:56 left in the opening period.
After Sterling went four-and-out, the Trojans turned the ball over again on a replay of the interception. Once again Flickinger pilfered a pass intended for Marsh and gave the Black Bears the ball-this time at the Trojan 19.
But Hillsboro’s defense held again for three plays, then caught a break when Sterling missed a 34-yard field-goal attempt.
Mistakes continued to undermine the Trojans’ apparent physical advantage.
After the two teams traded possessions, Hillsboro drove from its own 10 down to the Sterling 16. But the Trojans fumbled on the center-quarterback exchange and Ryan Diasio recovered for Sterling with 6:52 left in the second quarter.
Hillsboro’s defense held again for three plays, but when Sterling punted, the ball touched a Trojan defender on the bounce and the Black Bears recovered the ball on the Hillsboro 42-yard line.
The defense again stuffed Sterling in four plays, but this time the Trojans were called for roughing the kicker when Sterling punted and gave the Black Bears yet another chance, this time at the Trojan 48-yard line.
But the story line held true. Once more, the defense stuffed Sterling in four plays.
This time Hillsboro took the ball on its own 26 and, aided by two consecutive Black Bear face-mask penalties, drove to the Sterling 14-yard line in eight plays. There, Jost hit Steven Chisholm coming across the middle of the end zone for a touchdown strike 21 seconds before intermission.
Marsh’s kick was wide right, but Hillsboro led 13-0 at the break.
The defense continued its domination in the second half. Sterling’s offense did not generate a legitimate first down until midway into the fourth quarter, when the Black Bears pieced together a brief mini-drive.
Meanwhile, Hillsboro offense, able to eliminate the turnovers, added three more scores.
The first one came on a 24-yard pass from Jost to Marsh, who caught the ball around the 10-yard line, juked his way past two defenders and darted into the end zone. Jost’s pass to Brodie Unrau gave the Trojans the 2-point conversion and a 21-0 lead with 5:45 left in the third quarter.
On the Trojans’ next possession, Kris Jones broke through the defense and raced 59 yards for a score. Marsh’s kick was perfect and Hillsboro led 28-0 with 3:47 left in the third period.
After Sterling again failed to move the football, Hillsboro took the ball from its own 41 and scored eight plays later when Jost broke off left tackle on the keeper and ran 27 yards for the touchdown. Marsh kicked the extra point and it was 35-0 with 10:23 left in the game.
Neither team threatened to score the rest of the way.
When it was all over, Sterling had managed only 45 yards of offense-almost of all it coming in the last quarter when the Trojans went to their bench. HHS defenders recorded eight tackles for loss.
“The defense played excellent tonight,” coach Dustin McEwen said. “This is the second (consecutive) week we got a shut out. That’s phenomenal.”
That the Black Bears were without their best running back, Dallas Schnurr, didn’t help them. The Black Bears’ passing game was almost nonexistent-one pass completion in nine attempts for 3 yards-which enabled the Trojans to focus on the ground attack.
The Trojans, meanwhile, rolled up 392 yards on offense, including 290 on the ground. Jost led the way with 67 yards on 13 carries, Kyle Jilka came off the bench and ran impressively for 65 yards on 12 carries, Alan Yoder added added 62 yards on eight carries and Kris Jones had 57 yards on only four carries.
Jost added 102 yards through the air, completing eight of 12 passes.
The Trojans did take their share of lumps, however.
Tyler Peachey suffered a concussion when he was hit after catching a pass late in the second period. He sat out the entire second half and was later taken to Hutchinson Hospital, where he was held overnight for observation. He will not play against Lyons on Friday.
Yoder aggravated an ankle injury and sat out most of the second half. His status for Friday is not certain.
“We had some guys who took some shots and we were short some people (in the second half),” McEwen said. “I thought we had a great effort from some of the younger kids who filled in some positions.”
The Trojan coach said getting two straight lopsided wins after three close defeats have done his players a world of good.
“They’re a little more excited,” he said. “They kind of got their feet underneath them as far as winning. It gets contagious. It’s a lot more fun to win than to lose.”
Coming-McEwen said he hopes to carry his team’s recent momentum into Friday night, when the Trojan (3-3) begin district play at home Friday against Lyons (1-5). Game time at Reimer Field is 7 p.m.