ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
It took Hillsboro football coach Len Coryea a few moments to formulate some thoughts following his team’s 40-0 domination of Nickerson Friday night.
He may have struggled for words, but his smile spoke tons.
“I don’t know what to say,” he said with a chuckle. “I’ve never been here before.”
Indeed, this may have been the Trojans’ most impressive all-around performance in this, the third year of Coryea’s run as head coach.
The night started a little shaky when the Trojans fumbled the football back to Nickerson after holding the Panthers to minus-4 yards in three plays during the opening possession.
Two plays later, a late hit by Hillsboro gave Nickerson a first down at the Trojan 38.
But the defense held, including a 13-yard sack of quarterback Mace Krol by tackle Josh Kenney on a third-and-seven.
This time Hillsboro handled the punt flawlessly and took over at its own 25. Three plays later, facing fourth-and-inches, transfer quarterback Spencer Brown, on his first carry as a Trojan, bootlegged around left end and raced 65 yards for a touchdown.
Tyler Kaufman’s extra-point kick was good and Hillsboro led 7-0 with 5:36 left in the first period.
From that point on, the Trojans simply took over, scoring four more times before halftime-and spread the glory around in the process.
With 2:26 left in the first period, Lucas Hamm scored from one yard out, capping a four-play, 44-yard drive.
Then it was Michael Suderman’s turn. The senior ran in from four yards away with 10:30 left in the second quarter. Daniel Jost set up the five-play, 35-yard drive with a long punt return.
After another three-and-out by Nickerson, Jost scored-this time on a 2-yard pass from Brown. On the previous play, Brown and Hamm had hooked up for a 30-yard pass and run.
The Trojans capped the half with one more score. Adam Dirks took his turn, bulldozing through the middle of the defense for 31 yards and a touchdown with 3:34 left in the half.
With Kaufman making three of his five point-after attempts-two were blocked-Hillsboro took a 33-0 lead into intermission.
The point differential on the scoreboard accurately reflected Hillsboro’s control of the game. By halftime, the Trojans had out-gained the Panthers in total yards, 264 (183 rushing yards, 81 passing) to 1 (minus-2 yards rushing, plus-3 passing).
In the early minutes of the third quarter, the two teams traded away fumbles, but the Trojans regained their focus and kicked in the continuous-clock when Jacob Yoder scored from two yards out to give Hillsboro a 40-0 lead.
By league rule, the game clock does not stop except for timeouts and scoring plays once a team establishes a lead of at least 35 points in the second half.
With the time draining away and Hillsboro substituting, neither team put together a serious scoring threat the rest of the way- although in the fourth quarter Nickerson did manage to pick up two first downs in the same possession for the first and only time.
The Panthers drove as deep as the Trojan 30 before the defense shut the door on any Panther hopes for a score.
For the game, Hillsboro out-gained Nickerson 321 yards to 64.
Buoyed by his long touchdown run early in the contest, Brown finished as the game’s leading rusher with 102 yards on only five carries. He did not add to his 81 passing yards in the first half.
“That first half he was almost perfect,” Coryea said of the junior’s performance. “He had two passes (that fell incomplete) that should have been caught. He’s pretty good. He has good vision of the field.”
Hillsboro’s Four Horsemen in the backfield-Suderman, Hamm, Dirks and Yoder-combined for 140 yards on 19 carries.
“The offense moved-everything clicked just right,” Coryea said. “And we showed we can put anybody in the backfield, and they all can run.”
Tackle Josh Kenney led an outstanding team defensive effort with four tackles and four assists and linebacker Hamm added two tackles, eight assists and a fumble recovery from his linebacker spot.
As any coach probably is in a season opener, Coryea admitted he was a little nervous at the start of the game.
“I was a little worried,” he said. “I knew they were young and they had a new coach and it would be tough on us.”
At the same time, he said he wasn’t surprised that his team ultimately controlled the game in lopsided fashion.
“We practiced real sharp all week,” he said. “We seemed to get stronger as the first half went on. Of course, when you’re up 33-0 at halftime, it’s hard to stay focused. I don’t care what anybody says.”
Coming-Hillsboro will try to improve its 1-0 league and season record this Friday when Haven comes to Reimer Field. The Wildcats were beaten soundly by a good Smoky Valley team on Friday, 42-6.
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.