Hillsboro advances to the state football semifinals!

The Hillsboro Trojans came from behind twice in the second half on the way to a 32-21 win over Sacred Heart in the sectional finals Friday at Salina.

Sacred Heart dominated Hillsboro in the early minutes of the game, marching 69 yards in 12 plays to take a 7-0 lead when Emmanuel Kilat scored from a yard out only four minutes into the game.

The Knights’ defense then turned around and overwhelmed Hillsboro with speed and quickness as Hillsboro lost 14 yards on its first possession.

But Hillsboro regrouped and pieced together a 95-yard, 20-play drive in the second quarter that culminated in a 1-yard touchdown run by quarterback Spencer Brown. The Trojans botched the extra-point attempt and trailed 7-6 with 2:01 left in the half.

That was just enough time for Sacred Heart to score again with only 0:04 left. The big play was a 39-yard pass play with 15 seconds left from Sacred Heart’s standout quarterback Dane Simoneau to wide receiver Dave Faerber that gave the Knights a first-and-goal at the 1-yard line. Simoneau scored on the next play to give his team a 14-6 lead at intermission.

Undaunted, the Trojans came out after halftime in a different state of mind. After stuffing the Knights on four plays, Hillsboro looked like a new team on offense, pulling off a 72-yard drive in only five plays — the big one being a 53-yard burst up the middle that took Jacob Yoder into the end zone. The Trojans scored a 2-point conversion on the same play that defeated Cheney six days earlier — a rollout pass from Brown to Yoder — to tie the game at 14-14 with 7:34 left in the quarter.

Later in the quarter, Simoneau went to work again, running and throwing the Knights into a six-play, 85-yard drive that ended when Simoneau scored from eight yards out. The kick gave Sacred Heart a 21-14 lead with 1:03 left in the third quarter.

But Hillsboro came back immediately. After a sweet kickoff return by Yoder gave Hillsboro the ball at the Sacred Heart 44, Michael Suderman burst off right tackle for a 43-yard run to the Knights’ 1-yard line. Brown scored on the next play. The 2-point pass for the lead was incomplete, but Hillsboro was within a point, 21-20, with 53 seconds left in the period.

After stopping Sacred Heart on its next series, Hillsboro started the fourth quarter at its 40-yard line. Fueled by a 32-yard run by Yoder, the Trojans took the lead for good when Michael Suderman crossed the goal line from two yards out. Yoder caught the 2-point conversion pass but was stopped short of the end zone, so Hillsboro’s lead remained 26-21 with 9:19 to play.

Three plays into Sacred Heart’s next series, Simoneau was stripped of the ball and senior Adam Dirks, back in action for the first time with with an air cast on his leg after missing the past several games, recovered the ball to give his team possession with 8:40 on the clock.

Hillsboro then drove from the Knights’ 32-yard line all the way to the 1-yard line with 3:21 to go. But a bobbled snap cost Hillsboro some yards and ultimately a game-clinching score at that pont, as Sacred Heart took over on downs at the 5-yard line with 2:31 still to play.

But six plays later from the 22, Simoneau threw a pass that the receiver coughed up. Brown picked up the fumble and ran it in for the game-clinching score with 1:04 left in the game. The 2-point conversion failed again, but no matter. Hillsboro led 32-21.

Daniel Jost ended any faint hope of a Sacred Heart miracle when he intercepted Simoneau on the Knight’s next play from scrimmage, and Brown then took a knee for HHS until time ran out.

The win boosts Hillsboro’s record to 9-3 and earned the Trojans the sectional championship plaque. Although two past HHS teams have made it to the state semifinals in the past, this is the first time a Trojan team has done it by winning three games instead of two, thanks to the expanded playoff system since 2002.

HIllsboro will play the winner of Saturday’s game between Garden Plain (10-1) and Scott City (11-0) for a chance to get to the state finals. Time and location for that game is yet to be determined.

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