The first round of district play Friday turned into a shootout between two teams with two different attack strategies. In the end, the ground game of Moundridge prevailed over the passing attack of Hillsboro, 40-35, on a damp and cold night at Joel H. Wiens Stadium.
The contest quickly took on the tenor of a shootout as the two teams traded touchdowns almost from the start. After Moundridge scored on an 1-yard quarterback sneak by Garrett Higgins at the 5:29 mark, Hillsboro countered with a 33-yard touchdown pass from Jesse Brown to Jordan Faul to tie the game at 7 with 4:38 left in the first quarter.
Moundridge countered with an 8-yard pass from Higgins to Kyle Huxman with 46.4 seconds left in the quarter, then seemed to take control when Colby Badman broke loose for a 54-yard touchdown run for a 21-7 Moundridge lead just 17 seconds into the second quarter.
But Hillsboro struck back in two plays. First, a run by Brown combined with personal foul by Moundridge carried the Trojans from their own 28-yard line to the 45. Then Brown hit Faul with a 55-yard pass for the touchdown that cut the lead to 21-14.
The offensive guns on both sides then subsided until the final minute before halftime. Hillsboro had driven from its own 18 to the Wildcat 8-yard line — thanks in large part to a 61-yard completion from Brown to Justice Hilliard. Then, facing fourth-and-goal at the 1-yard line, Brown attempted to sneak the ball across the goal line, but fumbled. Team?mate Cody Delk picked up the ball and stepped into the end zone for the game-tying score with 47.8 seconds left in the first half.
The Trojans then took their first lead with the opening possession of the second half. Hillsboro capped a five-play, 63-yard drive with a 17-yard scoring pass from Brown to Delk that gave the Trojans a 28-21 lead with 10:43 left in the third quarter.
Moundridge rallied later in the period with a 54-yard, nine-play drive that ended when Higgins scored from a yard out with 2:32 to go.
Hillsboro regained the lead one last time when Preston Nelson took a swing pass from Brown and scored from two yards out with 10:51 left in the final quarter.
But the lead was shortlived. On the first play from scrimmage on the ensuing possession, Wildcat DeShawn Pfieff took a handoff on a reverse and raced 65 yards for what appeared to be the tying touchdown.
But for the first time all evening, a kicker missed an extra point. Leo Sontag was five-for-five for the Trojans, but this time Moundridge?s Badman missed after kicking his first four PATs successfully.
Hillsboro clung to a 35-34 lead and desperately need to run some time off the clock with 10:31 to play. But without a running game, Hillsboro went three-and-out on to two incomplete passes and a bad snap from center.
Mound?ridge took possession after the punt at its 32-yard line only 57 seconds later. From there, the Wild?cats launched a 13-play drive to the Trojan 18-yard line. From there, Badman swept the left end and scored with 2:54 to play. The 2-point conversion run by Stucky failed for the 40-35 lead.
With Hillsboro?s potent passing attack, the outcome was still in doubt. But after one incompletion, Brown?s deep pass downfield was intercepted by Moundridge?s Joel Halloway at the 2:32 mark. Moundridge then ran out the clock, ending the game with a pair of kneel-downs at the Hillsboro 13-yard line.
For the game, Mound?ridge outran the Trojans 406 yards on 63 attempts to 12 yards on 16 attempts. Hillsboro finished with 293 yards through the air on 18-for-31 passing while the Wildcats managed only 24 yards on 3-for-7 passing.
The victory improved Moundridge?s season record to 3-4, while Hillsboro dropped to 3-4. Next week, Hillsboro will travel to Marion while Moundridge will take on Halstead. Marion defeated Halstead 27-0 Friday.