The Hillsboro football team, physically undersized against the Nickerson Panthers, made big plays when it counted most to claim a 35-28 victory Friday at Nickerson.
For the second week in a row, the Trojans saw a substantial lead shrivel in the fourth quarter — and for the second week in a row, the Trojans dug deep to save victory from the jaws of what would have been an agonizing loss.
When Hillsboro?s Jakob Hanschu, stepping in at quarterback just long enough for starter Jesse Brown to catch his breath, connected with Jordan Faul in the Nickerson end zone for an 8-yard touchdown pass on the first play of the fourth quarter, the Trojans seemed to have victory locked down securely with a 35-14 lead.
But Nickerson didn?t quit. Led by sophomore running back Jordan Lehman, the Panther ground game shredded a weary Trojan defensive line for two touchdowns within about five minutes to pull to within seven points at 35-28 with 6:51 to go.
With momentum clearly changing, Hillsboro desperately need to run some clock on its next possession. Instead, the Trojans ended up going three-and-out, thanks to two incomplete passes and one completion that lost a yard.
Nickerson regained possession with 4:08 left and the ball at its own 22-yard line after Cody Delk?s punt. The Panthers promptly picked up where they left off — grinding out yardage against the Trojan defense.
With momentum building, Nickerson picked up a first down at the Trojan 24 with 1:48 to play. Just when it appeared the Trojans might crumble, they dug deep and held Nickerson to four yards on three running plays, setting up a fourth-and-6 at the 20. The Panthers put the ball in the air, but defenders Hanschu and Evan Ollen?burger prevented the reception near the 5-yard line, killing the Panther rally.
The Trojans might not have been in a position to pull out a fourth-quarter thriller if not for an outstanding goal-line stand right before halftime.
With 6 minutes left, Nickerson drove from its own 49 to the Trojan 1-yard line in nine plays and less than 1 minute on the clock. After Hillsboro stopped Lehman for a rare loss, the Panthers faced fourth-and-goal at the 5. Nickerson decided to throw the ball, and Bryon Young caught quarterback Braden Stewart?s pass along the Nickerson sideline — but the Trojans stopped him 1 yard short of the end zone with 44 seconds to play.
Buoyed by that turn of events, the Trojans took the second half kickoff and scored in three plays: a 53-yard sprint by running back Preston Nelson to the Nickerson 20, followed by a one-yard run by Hanschu and a 19-yard scoring strike from Brown to Hanschu. The score gave Hillsboro a 14-point swing and a 28-14 lead in less than 3 minutes of playing time.
Both teams moved the ball well in the first half. After Nickerson took a 6-0 lead with 4:48 left in the opening quarter, Hillsboro countered three plays later when Justus Hilliard scored from eight yards away one play after Brown and Ollen?burger combined for a 53-yard pass.
Hillsboro took a 14-6 lead later in the quarter. Brown intercepted a Stewart pass around the Trojan 33-yard line and returned it Nickerson?s 38. Two plays later, Brown hooked up with Ollenburger again, this time for a 39-yard touchdown. The duo combined for a 2-point conversion pass that gave the Trojans a 14-6 lead. Both teams scored once in the second quarter — Nickerson on a 29-yard run by Lehman, and Hillsboro on a 21-yard pass from Brown to Ollen?burger.
The win improved Hills?boro?s season record to 2-1 while Nickerson fell to 0-3. Hillsboro will host undefeated Hesston next week.