‘Freak’ touchdown opens door for Chapman win

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
Sometimes a single blow is all it takes to shatter a standoff.

After holding a stronger and more experienced Chapman team at bay for little more than half a game, Hillsboro took a haymaker to the face with a “freak” touchdown play that sparked the Irish to a 25-7 win Friday night at Reimer Field.

Trailing the visitors 7-0, the Trojan defense appeared to have Chapman’s Justin Gunderson wrapped up on a sweep to the right side. But on his way to the turf, the fullback handed the ball to halfback Dylan Bathurst, who bypassed the congestion ahead of him and raced down the sideline untouched for a 59-yard scoring play.

“We were doing all right,” coach Len Coryea said afterward. “Truthfully, that freak touchdown…. We’re young. We dropped our heads and didn’t respond back for a long time.”

But in the end, his team did respond.

After Chapman inflated its lead to 25-0 with two more scores-the first on a 30-yard bomb and the second on a four-yard run following a 49-yard pass-the Trojans could have thrown in the towel.

In fact, Coryea offered it to them in the huddle following the last Irish score.

“My timeout was, ‘Guys we can run out the clock, or do you want to try to put together a little systematic drive and get a touchdown?’ They said, ‘Let’s go for it.'”

And they did.

Starting at their own 37-yard line with just under 8 minutes to go, these young Trojans may have come of age, piecing together a strong, 17-play march down the field.

Halfback Tim Funk capped the crusade with a three-yard plunge at the 1:00 mark. Tyler Kaufman punctuated the touchdown with a powerful extra-point kick to make it 25-7.

“I think it was big because we’ve been having a hard time on the line putting it together,” Coryea said about the drive.

Indeed, the Trojan offense didn’t earn a first down until its fourth possession-stymied at times by critical penalties, but mostly by Chapman’s physical defense.

And the Irish played smart, shutting down the Trojans’ big-play man, wide receiver Daniel Deckert, with an effective double team.

It was the play of the Trojan defense that kept Hillsboro in the game for as long as it was. Coryea said a deficit of 7-0 at halftime was no small accomplishment.

“I was afraid they would physically dominate us,” Coryea said of his Class 4A opponent, one of the preseason favorites in the North Central Activities Association.

“I watched them two weeks ago in a scrimmage and I thought they were going to kill us on the line-physically just pound us. And they didn’t physically beat us.”

The Irish broke a scoreless stalemate three plays into the second quarter when quarterback Luke Snider hooked up with a wide open Bathurst over the middle for a 15-yard scoring pass that capped an eight-play, 65-yard drive.

Following the Gunderson-Bathurst back-breaker early in the third period, Hillsboro responded with a drive from its own 38-yard line to the Irish 34. But a holding penalty killed the Trojans’ momentum.

Three plays later, Bathurst, a pain in the Trojan side all night, delivered one more blow by picking off a Derek Hamm pass at the Irish 40 on a third-and-27 play.

Chapman then marched 30 yards in five plays before Snider lobbed his 30-yard bomb to an unguarded Bathurst for a 19-0 lead.

The final Irish score came on a five-play drive in the final period. The big play? A 49-yard pass from Snider to-who else?-Bathurst along the far sideline. Fullback Dustin Eagleburger carried the ball into the end zone on the next play from four yards out for the 25-0 lead.

That Hillsboro was willing and able to comeback for a final drive after those blows left its coach feeling positive about his team’s future.

“I told them that success in life is how you respond to some adversity,” he said. “Down 25-0, I’m wanting to fold the tents and go home, personally. The boys wanted to score. And they did that.

“We are a young football team-I hope people realize that,” he added. “That’s one thing I think we’ll learn from tonight.”

The Trojans finished with 150 rushing yards on 40 carries-40 yards of which came on that final scoring drive. Funk led his team with 77 yards on 24 carries.

Chapman rolled up 187 yards on the ground on 34 carries. Eagleburger ran the ball 17 times for 74 yards.

With Deckert bottled up, Hamm struggled to find receivers, throwing for 75 yards on five completions in 20 attempts. He had two passes picked off. Snider accumulated 116 yards on 5-for-10 throwing with no interceptions.

Coryea said the difference between the two teams was experience.

“That was their strong point,” he said of the Irish. “Their quarterback was back and their good receivers were back. They did well. They’re balanced. They’ve got a good fullback, a running back who’s OK, and the quarterback’s good.”

Coming-The Trojans will take a 1-1 record against Haven on Friday night at Reimer Field. The Wildcats are 1-1 following a one-point loss to Nickerson on Friday.

Aside from Friday’s loss to Chapman, the Trojans suffered two key injuries during the week.

Deckert eventually went down with an ankle in the second half. The all-league receiver and defensive back will miss at least the next few weeks of the season, depending on the severity of the injury.

Earlier in the week, Michael Suderman, a promising sophomore running back coming back from a summer hip injury, was tuning up for varsity action during Monday’s junior varsity game.

His season ended when he suffered a broken leg during a kick return.

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