ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
It isn’t often that you get a second chance to fulfill a dream.
The Hillsboro High School football team got one in the waning seconds of Friday’s game with Smoky Valley and cashed it in big time.
With the defensive rush closing in, Trojan quarterback Josh Boese connected with teammate Chad Hughbanks in the far side of the end zone for a dramatic, game-winning touchdown pass with 33 seconds left to give Hillsboro a 13-12 heart-stopping win at Reimer Field.
It had appeared only moments earlier that Hillsboro’s furious drive to overcome a 12-7 deficit would fall short when Boese’s fourth-and-five pass at the Viking 12-yard line hit the turf with only 36 seconds left in the game.
But an official caught the Vikings committing an illegal hold in the secondary, and the interference penalty gave the Trojans a first down and new life at the 8-yard line.
On the next play, Boese lofted toward the far side of the field. Hughbanks, who had caught only one pass this season, hauled in the football to complete perhaps the Trojans’ biggest play for the biggest win in recent memory.
“What I was really thrilled about is that Chad hasn’t had a lot of balls thrown at him, and he comes up with the biggest catch right now in three years of Hillsboro football,” coach Len Coryea said. “He’s one of our captains, and a captain rises to the occasion. My heart goes to Chad tonight.”
The other half of that Boese-to-Hughbanks connection was no slouch either. Coming off a 4-for-13 performance and three interceptions a week earlier at Haven, Boese was brilliant down the stretch as the Trojans all but abandoned the running game and went to the air against a quick Viking defense.
The senior, who finished with 255 passing yards on 14 completions in 32 attempts, connected on four of five passes to start the final drive, moving the Trojans from their own 38 with 1:52 to go, to the Viking 18 with 1:04 to play.
There, it appeared the Trojan drive might fizzle as Boese’s next three passes fell incomplete. A roughing-the-passer call against the Vikings on third down moved the ball to the 13-yard line and set up the fourth-and-five penalty and the winning score.
“We lost the running game, and that hurt us,” Coryea said. “We had to throw the ball. Boese last week struggled. This week he was great.”
In truth, for most of the night the Trojans more than held their own against what many thought to be a superior Smoky Valley team.
On their first three possessions of the game, the Trojans put together drives of 50, 25 and 61 yards and twice entered the red zone-only to come up empty both times.
Then, on their fourth possession, the Trojans finally made it to pay dirt.
Starting at the Hillsboro 36, Boese connected with Troy Frick for a 34-yard pass to the Smoky 30. Two plays later, facing third-and-9, Boese and Frick failed to connect on a pass, but the Vikings were called for a personal foul that gave the Trojans a first down at the 11-yard line.
After an encroachment call advanced the ball to the 6, the Trojans picked up a hard-fought first down at the 1-yard line on short runs by Michael Suderman, Tim Funk and Boese.
Boese then penetrated the end zone on another keeper play with 2:25 left in the first half.
Fortunately for HHS, David Funk’s extra-point kick caromed the right direction off the left upright to give Hillsboro a 7-0 lead.
But Hillsboro’s euphoria proved to be short-lived.
On second-and-three at their own 42-yard line, Smoky quarterback Darrin Biegert connected with teammate Rowdy Jones, who escaped the grasp of Hillsboro defender Adam Scheele and raced to the Trojan 20-yard line before Matt Brown brought him down.
The Vikings’ next two play netted them nothing. But on third down, Biegert rolled to his right and, with all the time in the world to find a receiver, threw across the field and connected with Tarron Tubbs for a touchdown with 57 seconds left in the half.
In what proved to be a pivotal play, Hillsboro’s Lucas Hamm blocked the extra-point attempt by Smoky’s Austin Orr and the Trojans still led, 7-6, as the half ended.
The Vikings grabbed the lead on their second possession of the second half. Starting at their own 8-yard line after a great punt by David Funk, Smoky efficiently moved down the field-fueled in part on a back-to-back 23-yard pass from Biegert to Tubbs and a 38-yard run by Michael Baker that took the ball to the Trojan 21-yard line.
Six plays later, Biegert scored from one yard out. Hillsboro thwarted Baker’s 2-point conversion run to keep the Viking lead at 12-7 with 1:38 left in the third quarter.
Hillsboro responded with a 17-play drive that carried them all the way from its own 29-yard line to the Smoky 1.
But consecutive holding penalties, plus a third penalty called on Boese for throwing the football past the line of scrimmage on a scramble, moved the ball back to the Viking 29-yard line, where the drive withered.
“We made a lot of mistakes at key times, but so did they,” Coryea said.
Indeed, it was a miracle either team had any toes left after the game, considering how many times they shot themselves in the foot with penalties.
Hillsboro finished with 12 flags for 90 yards while Smoky Valley drew 11 for 95 yards, including three personal-foul calls.
“They do have a lot of personal fouls in every game,” Coryea said. “They lost to Collegiate because of personal fouls. I told our guys, ‘We have to keep our control.'”
Viking players and coaches were obviously upset about the officiating-during and after the game. But Coryea said the Trojans were not handed the victory by the men in stripes.
“We (coaches) feel they finally made the call that was correct,” he said. “In fact, we should have received an automatic first down on the roughing the passer (penalty) and we did not get that.
“Thus, we would have had two more opportunities to score that was not allotted to us.
“So many people are crediting the win not to our play but to the refs’ ‘gift.’ We worked hard to win a game that was a toss-up and the boys should get recognition for that accomplishment and not for someone handing us the game.
“The stats and time of possesions tell the real story.”
With a few lapses, the Trojan defense did a good job of controlling the Viking offense, limiting it to 130 yards rushing and 94 yards passing.
The Trojans held the Vikings’ leading rusher, Michael DuMars, to only seven yards on seven carries. But teammate Baker picked up the slack, compiling a game-high 109 yards on 14 carries.
The Trojans struggled to establish a running attack, managing only 54 yards on 34 carries. Suderman finished with 33 yards on 19 carries and Tim Funk 26 yards on nine carries.
While Hughbanks earned the most attention with his one catch, Frick had an outstanding evening, grabbing nine of Boese’s passes for 164 yards. Scheele caught two for 64 yards.
“I thought we controlled tempo and time,” Coryea said. “Even though we weren’t getting (points), we were still controlling tempo and time.
“We stepped up the plate tonight,” he added. “Our pass protection fell apart there for a while, but we found a way to win. It’s been a long time since we played a big game here in Hillsboro and won.”
Coming-The victory improved the Trojans’ record to 3-1 overall and 2-0 in the MCAA Central Division.
That sets up a home-field showdown this Friday with powerful Wichita Collegiate, 3-0 in the Central Division and 4-0 overall.
“The scary part is we’ve got Collegiate next-they’re even faster,” Coryea said. “But I think (the win over Smoky) gives us a new breath of life, saying, ‘Hey, we are good enough to play people.’
“I think now we realize we can play with the big boys.”