ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
Aaron Stepanek’s 96-yard return of the opening kickoff ignited what turned out to be an explosive first half Friday as Hillsboro defeated Marion in the opening round of district play, 38-0, at Reimer Field.
Putting seven points on the board within the first 12 seconds of the contest was a key step toward a dominating performance that saw Hillsboro put up all 38 points by halftime and cruise to its first victory over the Warriors in three years.
The entire second half was played with a continuous clock.
“That’s a lot of monkeys off our back-that’s three years of drought,” Hillsboro coach Len Coryea said afterward.
The Trojan mentor said his team was unusually subdued prior to the contest. He feared his squad might not be emotionally ready for the game, especially with a key game against Hesston looming next week.
“They’re scrappy kids,” Coryea said of the Warriors. “That worried me.”
But only for about 12 seconds, as Stepanek scooped up the football at the 4-yard line and dashed untouched like Moses through the middle of the Red Sea on the way to pay dirt.
“That loosened it back up again,” Coryea said about his team’s demeanor. “We’re usually not that quiet and subdued and tight. We’re not rowdy and jovial, but we’re not like we were tonight.”
Although reeling from the sudden score, Marion did not go down with the punch. Instead, the Warriors took the ensuing kickoff at their own 24-yard line and marched 21 yards in eight plays. But an illegal-procedure penalty on fourth-and-inches forced Marion to punt.
Hillsboro took control from that point on.
After a short punt by Warrior freshman Brad Klenda gave Hillsboro the ball at midfield, the Trojans returned to the end zone in eight plays, with Michael Suderman running the final 12 yards for the touchdown.
Tyler Kaufman continued his career night of kicking the football by nailing the second of his five successful extra extra points to give Hillsboro a 14-0 lead with 5:10 left in the quarter.
Austin Hager started Marion’s second possession with what turned out to be the team’s biggest gainer of the night, a 12-yard rumble up the middle. But three plays later, the Warriors were punting again, this time from their own 42.
Another short punt gave Hillsboro great field possession at its own 45. A 15-yard run by Jacob Yoder followed by an offensive pass interference penalty put the ball at the Warrior 45.
Lucas Hamm ran it in from there, and Hillsboro led 21-0 with 2:31 remaining in the opening period.
After the Hillsboro defense forced Marion into a three-and-out, the Trojans pieced together their longest sustained drive of the night.
Starting at their own 19-yard line, the Trojans marched 81 yards in 12 plays. Suderman scored from 12 yards out with 7:32 left in the half.
Kaufman then contributed on the defensive side when he recovered a Warrior fumble on the third play of Marion’s next possession.
Getting the ball on the Warrior 38-yard line, the Trojans scored their fifth touchdown of the half four plays later when Jacob Yoder raced 26 yards for a touchdown with 5:10 left in the half.
Another three-and-out by Marion gave Hillsboro the ball at its own 35-yard line with less than three minutes remaining before intermission.
Hillsboro seemed content to run out the time. But facing fourth-and-2 at the Warrior 45-yard line with less than a minute left, quarterback Spencer Brown threw to Stepanek for a first down. A face-mask call against Marion gave Hillsboro a first down at the 30-yard line.
A 21-yard pass to Hamm on the next play gave Hillsboro a first down at the Marion 9 with 0:06 left.
Given the opportunity to try its first field goal of the season, Hillsboro trotted out Kaufman for a 26-yard attempt. An illegal procedure penalty added to the challenge, but Kaufman booted the ball through the uprights anyway with 1 second left for the 38-0 lead.
“A highlight for me was that field goal,” Coreya said. “I called that pass play (to Hamm), but hoped he wouldn’t get in (the end zone). Then I saw those 6 seconds left, and I said let’s just go for a field goal. It’s a good time to practice those things.”
Marion started the third quarter strong, marching from its own 35-yard line to the Trojan 8 in 11 plays. But Stepanek intercepted a Mitchell Leppke pass to end the threat.
It turned out to be Marion’s last hurrah.
Coryea was disappointed with the way his team started the second half.
“I talked too much at halftime about (playing) the second team,” he said. “Thus, our starters, they were done. They were not there.”
Coryea, who kept his varsity defense in until Marion pulled its starters in the final quarter, played his junior varsity on offense the entire second half.
“I made up my mind that I didn’t really want to score any more points (in the second half) because it really wasn’t necessary,” Coryea said.
For the night, Hillsboro finished with a 305-60 advantage in total offense. Yoder led the team’s rushing attack, picking up 81 of the team’s 210 yards on only eight carries.
Brown completed six of 11 passes and backup Daniel Jost was 1-for-1 for a total of 95 yards.
For Marion, Hager led the Warrior ground attack with 42 yards on 14 carries. As a team, though, Marion managed only 54 yards in 31 attempts.
Leppke competed one of five passes for six yards.
“We got beat by a better team,” said Marion coach Grant Thierolf. “They were more experienced, faster and more physical.
“We will be all right,” he added. “Our young kids are learning quite a bit about varsity football this season and that will benefit us down the line.”
Coming-Both teams will face challenging games this Friday in the second round of district play.
Hillsboro (5-2) will take on league rival Hesston (5-2) on the Swathers’ home turf while Marion (2-5) will play host to Remington (6-1). Hesston defeated previously unbeaten Remington on Friday, 42-13.
“Hesston will do what (Marion) was doing right at the end,” Coryea said. “They’ll run straight at us and try to push us backward.
“They’re not as big (as last season), but the still come at you,” he added. “They’ve still got (Kevin) Roulhac, their 220- to 230-pound fullback. They drill three holes in him and roll him straight ahead. You’ve got to be ready for that.”