Trip into ‘Twilight Zone’ sinks Hillsboro in season finale

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
Coach Len Coryea said his Hillsboro Trojan football team achieved his primary goal in its 34-8 loss to undefeated Southeast of Saline Thursday night on a muddy Reimer Field.

That goal? Finish the season with no more injuries.

It’s been that kind of year for the 2-7 Trojans, who saw high hopes unravel in the wake of injuries to 17 players over the course of the season. The worst one occurred last Monday when Troy Frick suffered a ruptured spleen during the junior varsity game with Marion.

The sophomore wide receiver was still recuperating in the hospital when his teammates took the field against Southeast.

“For me, it’s been kind of a depressing week because Troy’s really injured,” Coryea said after the game. “That’s been a bummer. I don’t know if it affected us, but you’ve got to be thinking, ‘Are we jinxed?’ and ‘I don’t want to get killed tonight.’ It had to be on (my players’) mind. It was on my mind.”

If Coryea’s team was affected, they didn’t show it through the first quarter and a half of the game against state-ranked Southeast.

While Hillsboro’s offense struggled against the purple-and-white Trojans, the defense kept the home team in contention by holding Southeast to a 39-yard touchdown burst by quarterback Justin Schropp with six seconds left in the opening quarter.

But halfway through the second period, the sky fell in as the maroon-and-gold Trojans, trailing 7-0, stepped into a gridiron Twilight Zone that absorbed only 1:20 on the game clock, but lasted an eternity for Hillsboro players, coaches and fans.

By the time the two teams returned from bizzaro world, Southeast was leading, 28-0.

The scoring explosion started routinely enough when Southeast running back Jimmy McDowell scored from three yards out, capping a 13-play, 59-yard drive and giving his team a 13-0 lead.

The turning point on that drive came when Hillsboro’s Josh Boese was called for pass interference on a fourth-and-18 from the Trojan 36-yard line, giving Southeast a first down at the 21.

As disappointing as the ensuing touchdown was, it hardly prepared anyone from what was to come.

Following the kickoff, Hillsboro running back Lucas Hamm couldn’t find the handle on a pitch, and Southeast recovered the football on the Trojan 33. The very next play, McDowell burst around the left end for another touchdown. Garett Mugler’s kick made it 20-0.

Hillsboro returned the kickoff to its 33-yard line. After a screen pass to Tim Funk gained only a yard, Derek Hamm’s pass on the next play fell into the hands of Southeast’s Nick Hardesty, whom Hamm tackled at the Hillsboro 11.

Schropp then launched a guided missile into the hands of Mugler for a Southeast touchdown. When McDowell ran in the 2-point conversion, Southeast led, 28-0, with 2:52 left on the clock.

“What do you say? It happens, I guess,” Coryea said after the game. “We knew that if we dropped our guard for just one little bit (we’d be in trouble), and we did that for that one two-minute spell.

“It’s like basketball,” he said. “You can have a team that’s average and play real hard for about 21/2 quarters, and all of a sudden it just falls apart from the pressure of having to execute well every play.

“We weren’t executing well every play, but we were hanging in there. I think it was just mental pressure.”

With victory in hand, Southeast added a fifth touchdown midway through the third quarter on a one-yard plunge by McDowell.

Trailing 34-0, Hillsboro avoided the shutout midway through the final period when, following a fumble recovery by Ben Schaefer at the Southeast 12-yard line, the Trojans scored with a little pre-Halloween trickery.

On first down, Derek Hamm threw a quick, short pass to senior wide receiver Daniel Deckert, who immediately pitched the ball to Lucas Hamm. The sophomore scored easily with 4:34 to play.

Derek Hamm’s 2-point conversion pass to Tyler Goldsby ended the scoring for the night.

Despite a slippery field, Southeast ended up with 285 rushing yards and 366 yards of offense with 14 first downs.

Hillsboro managed only three first downs with 35 rushing yards on 22 carries and 72 yards through the air.

Coming in, Coryea felt his team would be able to move the ball against Southeast.

“I didn’t realize they were as big as they were, physically,” he said. “All week long I watched (tape) and I thought we could move the ball. But we couldn’t get that pass-run rhythm going.

“Personally, if we didn’t have that little debacle in the second quarter, this game would have been reasonably close. I think they started getting nervous.”

Coryea said Southeast is a good team, but not among the elite in Class 3A, to his reckoning.

“I don’t think they’re the No. 2 team in the state,” he said. “We’ve played better teams. Smoky (Valley) and Collegiate, I think they’re better.

“But I could be wrong, if they pull it together and go,” he added. “They’ve got some good athletes and they are strong.”

As for his own program, Coryea said the second season under his command begins in December, when the weightroom opens.

“I hope our parents can see that we were not strong kids this year in football-we were weak,” he said, citing a lack of physical strength as one reason injuries occur.

“A good example of what I think weightlifting does is our girls (volleyball team),” he said.

“I watched those girls do their workout every day, three days a week. They filled in their book, they followed their schedule, and by-gummit, they got a reward for it,” he said, referring to their state-tournament berth. “Hard work brings success.

“I had guys come into the weightroom, but they didn’t lift-I watched them,” Coryea said. “It wasn’t my call then. Now it is, starting in December. They’re going to change. We will change.”

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