To appreciate the growth of Hillsboro’s football team from one year ago is to do so by incremental improvements against one of the best teams in Class 3A.
The Trojans lost 41-0 Friday to Hoisington, ranked No. 3 in 3A, at Joel Wiens Stadium. But one year earlier, the inexperienced Trojans lost 76-6, and trailed the Cardinals 56-0 by halftime.
This year the Trojans trailed 28-0 at intermission. And while a year ago the entire second half was played with a running clock, this season Hillsboro maintained a regulation clock until the final nine minutes of the game.
That said, the Cardinals dominated the game with their combination of quickness and physical play, the latter resulting in at least two injured Trojans leaving the game and a handful more shaken up.
Hoisington didn’t score its first touchdown until a mere 3:27 remained in the first quarter. Cardinal quarterback Tyler Specht squeezed into the end zone from 7 yards out, and the extra point made it 7-0.
The Cardinals added a second score on a 10-yard run early in the second quarter by their standout running back, Hunter Hanzlick, for a 14-0 lead.
After a Trojan four-and-out, Specht capped the next Cardinal drive with a 9-yard touchdown run that created a 21-0 advantage with 5:18 remaining in the first half.
When Hoisington forced Hillsboro to punt once more before intermission, Specht made them pay for it by capping an eight-play, 62-yard scoring drive with a 2-yard touchdown run with 30 seconds left.
The 28-0 halftime deficit put Hillsboro within a touchdown and an extra point of a running clock. On the opening possession of the second half, Hoisington secured the touchdown on a four-yard run by Hanzlick that capped a 52-yard, eight-play drive at the 4:58 mark. This time, though, the extra-point kick missed the mark, keeping the regulation clock in play at 34-0.
The Cardinals were set up for their final touchdown when a snap from center sailed over the head of quarterback Kaden Kleiner on fourth down. Kleiner covered the ball, but Hoisington took over on downs at the Trojan 23. Four plays later, Specht connected with Cameron Davis on a 5-yard pass that kicked in the running clock at the 9:21 mark.
Hoisington rolled up 357 yards of total offense, with all but 35 coming on the ground. The Trojans managed just 75 total yards, 48 of them coming on 22 running plays.
With the win, the Cardinals improved to 3-0 while Hillsboro slipped to 1-2. The Trojans will take on Smoky Valley at Lindsborg next week.