The only thing harder than losing a big game by one point is winning the “what if” game that inevitably follows.
Coach Len Coryea was quick to claim the blame for Hillsboro’s 14-13 loss to Smoky Valley, citing the pass play he called on a third-and-16 with 4:00 left in the fourth quarter.
His Trojans, leading 13-7 at the time, desperately needed a first down to eat some clock. Their first two running plays had resulted in minus yardage. Without a first down, Hillsboro would have to punt into the wind from its own 10-yard line.
But the pass Spencer Brown launched was intercepted by Smoky’s John DeWitt and returned to the Trojan 18.
Four plays later, with 2:02 left on the clock, Michael DuMars scored from four yards out and teammate Mark Bengtson nailed the critical extra point, all but assuring the Viking victory.
So was Coryea’s call to blame?
What about the blocked extra point after Hillsboro’s Jacob Yoder swept left end for the 13-yard go-ahead touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter?
What about the missed tackles that allowed DuMars to jitterbug 20 yards around left end for the game’s first touchdown midway through the second quarter?
In the end, to focus on the plays that went wrong takes away from the tremendous effort both teams put forth in this classic showdown of 4-1 teams.
Trojan fans should take pride in Hillsboro’s heroic response to the Vikings’ first score.
Rather than sit back on their heels, the Trojans marched 68 yards in 12 plays for a tying touchdown. Brown capped the drive with a four-yard bullet to Troy Frick with only 47.4 seconds left in the half.
Trojan fans won’t soon forget the inspired team effort on defense that held a potent Smoky Valley team to 181 total yards.
Personifying that effort was linebacker Lucas Hamm, who seemed to be in on every play. The senior co-captain finished with a season-best nine tackles and 15 assists.
To their credit, the Vikings matched Hillsboro’s intensity on defense, holding a potent Trojan offense to 138 total yards. Even so, Yoder contributed a yoeman’s performance, running hard for a team-high 70 yards on 17 carries.
This game was simply a classic battle between evenly matched teams. Both squads left everything on the field.
“It was a great football game,” Coryea said. “Their kids played hard and for the most part it was clean game.”
As for his own team, the Trojan coach said he couldn’t ask for more.
“I think everybody played as hard as we’re able to play. These guys are a very good football team.”
Coming-With the loss, Hillsboro’s chances of achieving an MCAA Central Division title are dim.
The Trojans are 2-2 in the six-team division with one league game to go. Smoky Valley, Wichita Collegiate and Hesston each have only one league loss.
But district play begins Friday when the Trojans take on Marion (2-4) at Reimer Field.
Joining the Trojans and Warriors with the goal of making the playoffs by finishing first or second in district play are Hesston (4-2) and undefeated Remington.
“The season starts over next week,” Coryea said. “We’ll go lick our wounds and have some mental healing.
“It’ll hurt tonight, but I’m not worried about these guys. We’ll be ready to play.”
Kickoff is at 7 p.m.