In the end, a win is a win even if it?s ugly. The Hillsboro Trojans survived a boatload of mistakes and missed opportunities to pull out a 24-12 victory at Herington Friday night (Oct. 23).
Together, the two teams accounted for 11 turnovers — six by Hillsboro and five by Herington. Add to that several costly penalties and fumbled snaps, two blocked kicks and several off-target passes and it was a wonder anyone emerged victorious.
The game started as expected for the favored Trojans. The defense stopped Herington in four plays after the kickoff, then Jacob Edwards returned the punt to the Herington 26-yard line. The Trojan offense scored six plays later on a five-yard pass from Jacob Fish to Ben Bebermeyer with 8:20 left in the first quarter. Ethan Frantz?s extra-point kick was blocked for a 6-0 lead.
On that ominious note, the game seemed to unravel, especiallly for Hillsboro. By the end of the quarter, the Trojans suffered two interceptions, one lost fumble and two center snaps that were fumbled but recovered.
Fish?s second interception turned into points for Herington when Dylan Barber returned the stolen pass to the Trojan 20. Three plays later Drake Heitfeld scored on a pass from quarterback Matt Biehler. Heitfeld was penalized for celebration, making the 2-point pass attempt a futile effort. The game was tied 6-6 with 28 seconds left in the period.
After Fish threw his second interception to Barber to give Herington the ball at the Trojan 30, Edwards came right back with his second pick of Biehler to give Hillsboro the ball at the 22. From there Hillsboro drove the length of the field and finally scored when Fish hit Taylor Hagen with an 8-yard TD pass at the 2:53 mark. The 2-point run fell short to keep the lead at 12-6, which lasted until halftime.
To start the third quarter, Hillsboro?s first possession consisted of a penalty, an incompletion, a quarterback sack, another penalty and an incompletion before the Trojans finally executed a fourth-down punt correctly.
Herington took the ball and marched 51 yards in seven plays with Biehler scoring on a 13-yard run. Matt Yoder intercepted Biehler?s 2-point pass to keep the score tied at 12-12 with 7:31 left in the third period.
Hillsboro came back with 62-yard scoring drive hindered by a personal-foul penalty on the Trojans but also helped later by pass-interference called against Herington. Chance Reece capped the drive with a 27-yard run up the middle with 3:14 left in the period. Frantz?s kicked veered left and it was 18-12, Hillsboro.
Early in the fourth quarter, Hillsboro drove from its own 45 to the Railer 13, but Reece fumbled away the football to give the Railers possession at their own 10-yard line. Herington drove to the 31 before his pass was snatched away by Hillsboro?s Daniel Dick, who returned it about 40 yards for a score with 4:46 left in the game. Once more Hillsboro flubbed the extra-point kick, this one attempted by Max Bertinchamp.
The two teams swapped interceptions one more time to give Hillsboro possession at its own 49-yard line with 1:39 left in the game. This was significant because Hillsboro led only by 12 points, and needed to win by at least 13 points to be assured of a trip to the first round of the state playoffs — regardless of the outcome of next week?s finale with Marion.
Fish hooked up with Bebermeyer for a 45-yard pass to the Railer 3-yard line with plenty of time to punch in a score. But word came to the Hillsboro bench that Marion had defeated Southeast of Saline, 16-0, assuring the Trojans of a playoff spot regardless of the Marion outcome next week.
Coach Max Heinrichs decided to run out the clock and the Trojans secured the 24-12 win only to discover within a few minutes of the end of the game that the information they had received was wrong — Southeast had defeated Marion, 16-0.
Suddenly the door is cracked open to a bizarre finish to the end of the regular season.
If Hillsboro defeats Marion, the Trojans proceed to the playoffs as the undefeated (3-0) district champion.
Anything less than that, combined with a Southeast win over Herington, could put the Trojans? post-season hopes in jeopardy depending on the margins of victories.