Strong effort by Hillsboro comes up short against SES

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
Moral victories don’t show up in the permanent record, but the Hillsboro football team earned a “W” in that column despite a 26-7 loss on the scoreboard Thursday night at Southeast of Saline.

Coming off a discouraging blowout loss to Marion that eliminated the Trojans from the state playoffs the previous week, and now facing a Southeast team that had proved itself to be the best squad in a strong District 12, Hillsboro could have simply sleep-walked through its season finale.

Instead, the Trojans from Hillsboro played their hearts out against the Trojans from Southeast.

“I was pleased,” coach Len Coryea said afterward. “We really put our heads down last week (against Marion), and that wasn’t us all year. We came out (against Southeast) and hit hard and played hard.”

After the two teams punted on short-lived possessions to start the game, Hillsboro faced its first test when Southeast got the football for the second time.

Starting at their own 19-yard line, the purple-clad Trojans rode the passing and running of their talented quarterback, Justin Schropp, to a first-and-goal at the Hillsboro 8-yard line in eight plays.

There, the maroon defense dropped Schropp for a three-yard loss and forced an incomplete pass before a screen pass Travis Sheets set up a fourth-and-goal at the 1-yard line.

Schropp fumbled on the next play and Hillsboro tackle Kurtis Shaw recovered the football on the 10-yard line, terminating the Southeast threat.

Hillsboro then picked up two first downs before punting back to Southeast, who took possession at its own 37-yard line.

Five plays later, Hillsboro linebacker Lucas Hamm intercepted a Schropp pass around the Hillsboro 30-yard line and ran it back to the Southeast 25 with four seconds left in the opening quarter.

A 12-yard run by quarterback Josh Boese gave Hillsboro a first-and-goal at the 3-yard line. Tim Funk was stopped for a three-yard loss on the next play and Boese threw an incomplete pass to give Hillsboro a third-and-goal at the 6.

On the next snap, Michael Suderman took the option pitch and darted into the end zone to give Hillsboro an early lead that grew to 7-0 when David Funk kicked the extra point.

After the two teams traded brief possessions, Southeast took advantage of a short punt that gave it the ball at the Hillsboro 41-yard line.

Southeast advanced to the 11-yard line in four plays, including a 17-yard run by Schropp. After missing on his next pass, Schropp then connected with Sheets over the middle for a touchdown. The tandem also connected on a 2-point conversion pass to give SES an 8-7 lead with 5:19 left in the first half.

It appeared that score would hold until intermission. Hillsboro ate up three minutes of the clock on an eight-play drive, then had Southeast mired at its own 49-yard line after a 12-yard sack by linebacker Tim Funk with 48 seconds left on the clock.

But on second-and-22, Schropp connected downfield with Chris Weller for a 38-yard reception and a first down at the Hillsboro 25-yard line.

Following an intentional spike by Schropp to stop the clock, a 10-yard run by Sheets was offset by a six-yard sack by Trojan tackle Josh Kenney to set up a fourth-and goal at the 21 with the final seconds of the half ticking away.

But Schropp and his Trojans were not to be denied when he connected with wide receiver Bryson Flax in the end zone as time expired. The 2-point-conversion run failed, but Southeast carried a 14-7 lead and some critical momentum into intermission.

“I told the guys whether you pull an upset or not, you’ve got to play one play at a time,” Coryea said. “Then we broke coverage and they got that touchdown pass. When you quit communicating, that happens.”

After a short series by Hillsboro to start the second half, Southeast dealt the visiting Trojans a serious blow with a nine play, 75-yard scoring drive.

Key plays included an 11-yard run by Colby Douglas followed by a Douglas run and face-mask penalty for 19 yards and a 22-yard run by Douglas that gave Southeast a first-and-goal at the Hillsboro 5-yard line.

From there, Douglas completed his assault with a run through the middle of the Hillsboro line that left him standing in the end zone.

Hillsboro thwarted the 2-point attempt but found itself trailing 20-7 with 5:06 left in the third quarter.

But Hillsboro refused to roll over. Helped by a roughing-the-kicker penalty and one for defensive holding, Boese & Co. drove from its own 22-yard line to the Southeast 35 in nine plays.

But after Boese was sacked for an eight-yard loss on third-and-six at the 31, he misfired on a fourth-down pass to give Southeast the ball to start the fourth quarter.

The home team then drove to the Hillsboro end zone in nine plays with Schropp sneaking in from one yard out to give Southeast its final 26-7 margin with 8:00 left in the game.

Hillsboro responded with a nine-play drive, including a 24-yard run by Tim Funk, that gave his team a first down at the Southeast 15-yard line. Boese followed an unsuccessful flea-flicker and a one-yard loss on a run by Funk with a nine-yard pass to Chad Hughbanks on fourth-and-11.

With Hillsboro falling two yards short, Southeast took over at the 7-yard line with 2:26 to play and time ran out after both teams went three-and-out.

Led by the 91 yards rushing and 203 by Schropp, Southeast finished with a team total of 350 yards.

Hillsboro, meanwhile, netted 222 yards on offense-142 yards on the ground, led by Tim Funk’s 88 yards on 18 carries; and 80 through the air on 10-for-22 passing by Boese with no interceptions.

The win gave Southeast of Saline a perfect 3-0 record in district play and an 8-1 mark overall.

Hillsboro, meanwhile, finished the season with a 0-3 record in the district and 4-5 overall.

“With a losing record, of course you’re disappointed,” Coryea said. “That wasn’t our goal. It’s a long ways from what we wanted.”

At the same time, Coryea said he appreciated the effort and leadership embodied by his 12 seniors.

“I don’t think a guy could ask for better seniors, as far as a coach goes,” Coryea said. “The general approach they took to everything every day was great. Things were so nice in practice, we never had a bad day.

“That’s as good as it’s every going to get.”

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