One thing was absolutely certain about Thursday’s final district and regular-season game between 7-1 Southeast of Saline and 2-6 Hillsboro: Trojans would win.
Only slightly less certain, in the minds of most, was that the purple-clad Trojans from Southeast would prevail, and probably by a wide margin.
As they say, that’s why they play the game.
With a remarkable demonstration of effort and determination, it was the maroon-clad Trojans who won the game — and won the day — with a 30-28 upset of SES at Joel Wiens Stadium.
Hillsboro took a 6-0 lead on an 8-yard pass from quarterback Kaden Kleiner to receiver Braden Vogt. The six-play, 37-yard drive was set up by Jeffrey Jorgenson’s interception of SES quarterback Bryce Banks at the 2:49 mark.
Hillsboro fans cringed three plays later when Banks connected with Grant Tillberg on a 71-yard scoring pass as time ran out in the first quarter. Hunter White added a 2-point run to put SES ahead, 8-6.
But Hillsboro didn’t fold.
The two teams traded possessions until SES broke through with a 17-yard scoring pass from Banks to Kyler Berry with 2:32 left in the first half. Banks’ 2-point run failed but his team led 14-6.
That score held through halftime and until late in the third quarter, when Hillsboro started a fresh possession at its own 11-yard line and drove the length of the field in 11 plays. The drive was capped by Kleiner’s 7-yard run off right tackle for the score at the 3:57 mark. His 2-point pass fell incomplete, but Hillsboro led, 14-12.
On the second play of Southeast’s next possession, Jorgenson ripped off another Banks pass, giving Hillsboro the ball at the HHS 40. Four plays later, Kleiner found Jacob Funk for a 20-yard scoring pass with 1:29 left in the third quarter. Kleiner ran in the 2-point play for 20-14 Hillsboro lead.
After Hillsboro’s defense forced a three-and-out, Brooks Gardner returned the punt to the Southeast 27-yard line with 3 seconds left in the quarter. From there, the home team drove to the 8-yard line, where Jorgenson nailed a huge 25-yard field goal that gave Hillsboro a two-possession lead at 23-14 with 9:05 left in the contest.
As it turned out, Hillsboro need every point — and more. A lost fumble on a handoff gave Southeast the ball at the Hillsboro 10-yard line. One play later, White was in the end zone at the 5:40 mark, but Hillsboro stopped White short of the goal line on his 2-point run to maintain a 23-20 lead.
With the home crowd praying its team could drain most of the clock on its next possession, the Trojans did the unbelievable instead. On third-and-5 at the Hillsboro 45, Kleiner took off through the blur of purple and maroon Trojans and ran for a 55-yard touchdown with 3:45 to play. Jorgenson’s kick made it 30-20.
The drama wasn’t over quite yet, though. Southeast marched from its own 33 to the Hillsboro 8-yard line in 10 plays. Banks fumbled the football on the next play, but Southeast managed to corral it at the 4-yard line. From there, Banks hit Tillberg for a touchdown, then for the 2-point conversion pass to pull their team to within 30-28 with 1:00 to go.
The unexpected victory was finally secured when Gardner recovered Southeast’s onside kick, enabling the home team to run out the clock and celebrate a huge program win.
Meanwhile, Hesston won the district title Thursday night with a 57-24 win over Marion for a 3-0 record. Hillsboro, Southeast and Marion all finished at 1-2, but Southeast will advance to the state playoffs as the runner-up based on points.