Early mistakes undermine late comeback

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
A moral victory doesn’t mean squat statistically, but the one Hillsboro chalked up against Hesston Friday night was big enough to give Trojan coach Dustin McEwen a measure of satisfaction after his team lost to the fourth-ranked Swathers, 26-12, at Reimer Field.

The Trojans actually won the last three quarters of the game-and almost stole the victory-but their 20-0 trip into the Twilight Zone to start things off was just too much to overcome.

“Hesston knows they were in a ball game,” McEwen said afterward. “If they’re ranked fourth in the state, I feel we came out and represented ourselves well.”

The loss evened the Trojans’ season record at 4-4 and their district mark at 1-1. A win against Halstead on Thursday will send Hillsboro into the next round of playoffs as the District 11 runnerup.

Hesston (7-1) clinched the title with a 2-0 mark and will play 2-6 Lyons Thursday.

Hesston and Hillsboro came out Friday night like they were playing Hot Potato instead of football.

On the very first play from scrimmage, Hesston’s standout running back, Brian Roulhac, fumbled the football and Caleb Marsh recovered it for Hillsboro on the Hesston 32.

But Marsh then fumbled on the Trojans’ first play, and the Swathers regained possession at the line of scrimmage.

Ten plays later, with Hesston having driven to the Trojan 17-yard line, Chad Hershberger fumbled and Kris Jones recovered the ball for Hillsboro.

But the Trojans were not to be outdone. On Hillsboro’s first play from the 15, the Swathers’ Andy Bartell snagged a Dustin Jost pass intended for Jones and gave his team the ball on the Trojan 30.

This time the Swathers made the Trojans pay for their generosity. On the fourth play of a short drive, the 6-0, 211-pound Roulhac rumbled around the Trojans’ left end and scored from seven yards out.

Brian Schultz kicked the point-after for a 7-0 Hesston lead with 5:16 left in the opening quarter.

Hillsboro then hung on to the football for a short drive that started at its 22 and stalled 17 yards later. Marsh’s punt gave Hesston possession at the Swather 30.

Two plays later, Jason Pomeroy burst through the Trojan defense and dashed 66 yards for a touchdown. Schultz’s kick made the score 14-0 with 1:37 left in the quarter.

But Hillsboro’s nightmare continued. Unable to move the ball in three plays, Marsh attempted to punt again. This time his kick was partially blocked and Hesston took over on the Trojan 33-yard line.

Three plays later, on the first play of the second quarter, Hesston’s Dustin Klassen broke off left tackle and raced 25 yards to the end zone. Schultz’s kick sailed wide right, but Hesston was ahead 20-0 in what was on the verge of becoming a blowout.

The Trojans averted further first-half damage with a couple of relatively short but time-consuming possessions. The half ended with Hesston driving at the Hillsboro 38-yard line-and with more than a few Trojan fans wondering if their team would have the heart to be more than a speed bump on Hesston’s road to a district title.

They had the heart.

The Trojans took the second-half kickoff and, fueled by a 32-yard run by Jones, drove from their own 27-yard line to the Swather 19 in eight plays. There, Jost hit Jones coming across the middle for Hillsboro’s first score.

A 2-point-conversion pass fell incomplete, but the Trojans were on the board, 20-6, with 7:56 left in the quarter.

The two teams traded possessions until about four minutes into the final period, when Alan Yoder, running off right tackle, dove across the goal line from two yards out to cap an 11-play, 87-yard drive.

The big play of the drive was a 40-yard completion from Jost to Marsh on a double handoff. The pass gave Hillsboro the ball at the Hesston 5, and Yoder scored two plays later.

The Trojans attempted to kick the extra point, but a bad snap ended up in Marsh’s hands. The junior tried to pass for two points, but his throw was incomplete.

Hesston seemed to come to life again after that score. They started a drive at their own 36 and drove to the Trojan 5-yard line in 10 plays.

But once more, the Trojans refused to fold. In a gutsy goal-line stand, the defense stopped Roulhac on four consecutive carries-the last two from only a half-yard out.

Regaining possession with 2:15 left to play, the Trojans needed one more magical moment. This time, it didn’t come. One short run and three incomplete passes gave the ball back to Hesston with 1:24 to play.

Pomeroy scored from the 3-yard line to account for the final margin. The Trojans stopped Roulhac once more as he tried to sweep the left end for a meaningless two points.

“I was very pleased they didn’t come out in the second half and feel that second place was going to be good enough,” McEwen said about his team when it was over.

“I kind of worried about that when districts started, knowing that Hesston was going to have a good team. But I didn’t get that feeling at all…. We beat them in the second half.”

But McEwen said Hesston was simply the better team on this night.

“They’re good,” he said. “They’ve got all the components they need to be great.

“We knew we were going to have to make big plays (to beat them)-and we didn’t for the most part,” he added. “But you get down 20-0- that’s scary. To come back and do what we did in the second half, I’m pleased.”

The two teams were almost identical in total yardage, with Hesston holding a 297 to 295 edge.

Even though the Trojans stopped him at key moments, Roulhac did finish the night with 174 rushing yards on 29 carries. Pomeroy added 78 yards on four carries-mostly on the strength of his breakaway scoring run.

Leading the Hillsboro defensive effort was a trio of seniors. Graham Ratzlaff was credited with three tackles and nine assists, James Bina for one tackle, nine assists and two tackles for losses, and Shawn Hughbanks with four tackles and six assists.

The Trojans, meanwhile, found most of their offensive success in the air. Jost completed 11 of 21 passes for 197 yards. Marsh accounted for 141 yards on five receptions.

Running against a significantly larger line, the Trojans still managed 123 rushing yards. Jones picked up 63 on nine carries and Yoder added 46 on 15 carries.

Coming-Hillsboro is in control of its post-season future. If the Trojans beat winless Halstead on the road Thursday night, they will move on Tuesday, Nov. 5, to play the District 12 champion, which will be the winner of Thursday’s game between Riley County (7-1) and Southeast of Saline (7-1).

The game between Hillsboro and Halstead will start at 7 p.m.

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