ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
Hillsboro played well enough to beat Ellinwood Friday night, but when the opportunity to pull out the victory came calling-not once, but at least three times in the fourth quarter-no one stepped up to open the door.
“I don’t doubt the effort they gave was good enough to win,” coach Dustin McEwen said after the Trojans’ heartbreaking 9-7 loss. “I don’t think we didn’t play hard. We just didn’t have quite enough to finish it.”
The Trojans (2-2) had taken a 7-0 lead on the second play of the second quarter when quarterback Derek Hamm scored from one yard out to cap a 10-play, 63-yard drive.
Caleb Marsh, making his first appearance since an ankle injury sidelined him two weeks earlier, kicked the extra point.
Ellinwood (3-1) came back with a 68-yard drive of its own-most of it on a 50-yard pass from Eagle quarterback Cody Engle to Tyler Wirtz that moved the ball to the Trojan 21.
Five plays later, on fourth and goal, Engle connected with Anthony Barr in the back of the end zone for the touchdown with 11:10 left in the first half.
Hillsboro caught a break when Engle’s extra point kick was nullified on a penalty and he missed the do-over.
The Trojans had a chance to broaden their 7-6 lead just before halftime. Driving from their own 31-yard line, Hillsboro moved the Eagle 9-yard line in 12 plays.
Two plays later, with only 19 seconds on the clock, Engle picked off a Hamm pass in the end zone to kill the drive.
On their first possession of the second half, the Eagles took the ball from midfield and drove to the Trojan 12-once again fueled by a long pass between Engle and Wirtz, this time for 35 yards.
But Hillsboro held on the next three plays, prompting the Eagles to kick the go-ahead field goal, which Engle nailed with 7:33 left in the quarter.
When Derek Mayfield picked off an Engle pass, the Trojans had the ball on their 47-yard line with 4:54 left in the quarter.
Eleven plays later, the Trojans were knocking on the door again with a first down at the Eagle 12. But three running plays netted only six yards, and the Trojans faced a fourth-and-four at the 6-yard line.
As Marsh lined up to attempt a 23-yard field goal, it appeared Hillsboro might merit some poetic justice after all.
A year ago, Marsh’s field-goal attempt late in the game just missed the mark and the Eagles spoiled the Trojans’ homecoming with a 22-20 win.
Now, with Hillsboro trailing by two points at Ellinwood’s homecoming, the stage was set for redemption and justice in one fell swoop.
Alas, Marsh never got the chance. The Trojans failed to execute a successful long snap and hold, and Marsh ended up buried under an avalanche of Eagles.
“I’ve told myself many times I don’t kick field goals, and then we did it anyway,” McEwen said. “In hindsight, I wish I’d have gone for it and just seen what would have happened.”
But with the 9:45 still to play, Hillsboro was far from finished.
After the defense forced an Ellinwood punt, the Trojans started from their own 20-yard line with 6:58 to play and moved down the field. When Hamm connected with Tim Funk on a 21-yard pass over the middle, the Trojans had a first down at the Ellinwood 27.
But a penalty, a three-yard loss on a running play, an incomplete pass and an eight-yard loss on a sack left the Trojans staring at a fourth-and-26.
Hamm dropped back and threw down field to Michael Suderman. The ball skipped off the freshman’s fingertips and then through the hands of teammate Mayfield, who was wide open near the sideline.
Ellinwood took over with 1:40 left on the clock. But the Trojan defense, combined with three HHS timeouts, put the ball back in their hands with 1:10 left in the game.
A first-down pass from Hamm to Funk gave the Trojans a first down at the Eagle 35.
Three incompletions later, Hamm, throwing into a stiff breeze, connected with Daniel Deckert on fourth-and-10 for 21 yards and a Trojans first down at the Eagle 29-yard line with 36 seconds left.
Three more incompletion left the Trojans facing a fourth-and-10 with 19 seconds left.
Once more Hamm fired toward the Trojan sideline and once more the pass was tipped, this time toward Suderman, who reached for it but couldn’t find the handle. The ball dropped to the ground, and the Trojans ran out of time and opportunities.
If the scoreboard recorded total yards instead of points, the Trojans would have won. HHS rolled up 294 yards compared to 175 for Ellinwood, and earned 16 first downs to the Eagles’ six.
“Defensively, we played really well except for a couple plays,” McEwen said. “I think the stats are going to look pretty good on our end, as far as yardage and moving the ball. I feel bad I didn’t come up with something for us to get into the end zone.”
Funk finished as the Trojans’ leading rusher with 73 yards on 15 carries. Suderman added 48 yards on 12 carries.
Hamm picked up 148 yards passing on 8-for-28 throwing. He threw two interceptions.
Deckert caught three passes for 50 yards, while Jared Fish and Funk each caught two for 43 yards.
The Eagles managed only 60 rushing yards on 30 carries. Of their 115 passing yards, 85 came on two completions.
Kyle Jilka led the defense with three solo tackles and seven assists. Wade Weibert was credited for only three assists, but all three were tackles behind the line of scrimmage.
“It’s disappointing, but I think we understand it’s going to take a pretty solid game to beat a pretty solid team,” Mc Ewen said.
Coming-The Trojans will attempt to change their fortunes Friday when they take on Ellsworth on a non-league game on homecoming weekend. Game time is 7 p.m.