The visiting Braves from Council Grove (6-3) hung on to claim a 12-7 win over the Trojans (2-7) in a matchup of 0-2 district teams.
Trailing 12-7, Hillsboro appeared to be on a game-winning drive midway through the fourth quarter, advancing from its own 41-yard line to the Council Grove 25 in eight plays.
Facing third-and-one, quarterback Justus Hilliard was dropped for a two-yard loss. Then, on fourth-and-3, his pass to Jakob Hanschu missed the mark with 1:25 left in the game.
With the turnover on downs, Hillsboro needed a miracle to pull out a victory?and they got one when Council Grove?s workhorse running back, Keegan Honas, fumbled on the second play from scrimmage.
Jacob Funk recovered the loose ball for Hillsboro, giving the Trojans new life at the Braves? 21-yard line with 1:12 to play.
Hilliard lost four yards on a first-down play, then spiked the ball on second down to stop the clock. Back-to-back incomplete passes gave the football back to the Braves with 41.3 seconds to play, and the visitors ran out the clock.
The game began in a similar vein. Hillsboro started the opening drive at its 41-yard line and made it to the Council Grove 3 in three plays?most of it on a 47-yard run by Hilliard.
On first and goal, a running play gained one yard. Following an incomplete pass, Hilliard?s next pass was intercepted by Honas in the end zone.
?We just couldn?t finish,? coach Lance Sawyer said of the evening.
One Trojan miscalculation contributed to the final outcome, too.
Early in the second quarter, a Council Grove punt pinned the Trojans at their own 16-yard line. Two consecutive incomplete passes, followed by a no-gain running play, had the Trojans facing fourth-and-10.
With Carson Herbel in formation to punt, the snap went to Hilliard instead for an impromptu fake. The senior ran off left tackle but was stopped short of the first down, turning the ball over to the Braves at the Hillsboro 21-yard line.
Five plays later, quarterback Trey Langvardt scored from two yards out. A two-point pass fell incomplete, but Council Grove led 6-0 with 7:46 left in the half.
Hillsboro scored its only touchdown prior to halftime. Starting at the Coun?cil Grove 36-yard line, three plays and a Braves penalty left the Trojans facing a fourth-and-11 at the 37-yard line.
Hilliard rolled to his right, then reversed field and came all the way around to score with 1:53 left in the half. Jeff Jorgenson?s kick gave the Trojans the lead at 7-6.
The Braves scored the winning touchdown late in the third quarter. On third-and-15, the Braves pulled off a 31-yard flea-flicker pass from Langvardt to wide receiver Alex Wooden in the end zone with 2:54 left in the quarter. The 2-point conversion attempt failed for the 12-7 lead final margin.
For the game, Hillsboro held a solid edge in total offense, 269 to 151 yards. Hilliard capped a strong senior season with 210 rushing yards on 29 carries and 50 yards through the air on 6-for-21 passing.
Officials called 21 penalties in the game?a season-high 12 were assessed against Hillsboro.
?The kids were trying to make plays and just got a little ahead of themselves,? Sawyer said of the flags. ?Every one of those kids wanted to make the play that won it. We just never had the guy who did it.?
Sawyer said the season didn?t turn out as planned.
?We?re disappointed with the way it finished, and we all think it could have been better,? he said, ?We just couldn?t make a break go our way. At some point we have to make our own breaks.?
For nine seniors, this was their final appearance in a Trojan football uniform.
?The program is going to miss that senior class,? Sawyer said. ?They?ve been the heart and soul of our team for two years. We?ve got to get some of the young kids to fill their shoes.?