As never-quit football teams do, Hillsboro made comeback after comeback in its regional showdown against Sedgwick.
But in the end, a talented Cardinal squad outlasted the Trojans, 38-34, Saturday at Joel H. Wiens Stadium. The loss completed Hillsboro’s best season in more than 15 years with a 10-1 record.
“I wish we could have gone a little further,” said first-year coach Lance Sawyer. “I was proud to coach these kids. They worked hard.”
First-half mistakes made the prospect of moving on more difficult for the Trojans.
Sedgwick set the tone when Drake Standefer intercepted Trojan quarterback Tyler Proffitt on the third play of the game. A Sedgwick penalty after the pick gave the visitors the ball at the Trojan 49-yard line.
Six plays later, Cardinal quarterback Logan Thompson, a handful all night at an agile 6-foot-2, 225 pounds, was in the end zone on a 16-yard run. Hillsboro stopped the two-point conversion run to trail 6-0 with 8:39 left in the quarter.
Hillsboro promptly tied the game in one play when Tyrell Thiessen swept the left end and rumbled 63 yards for the tying touchdown. Tyler Burst’s extra-point kick was blocked, but the game was tied at 6-6.
Sedgwick jumped back in front on the next possession with a 62-yard, 13-play drive capped by Dalton Brandt’s 3-yard touchdown run. Thompson passed to Standefer for the two-point conversion and a 14-6 lead.
Hillsboro caught a break later in the quarter when Sedgwick’s Tanner Liby caught a Thompson pass but fumbled on the tackle. Josh Wiebe recovered the ball for Hillsboro at the Cardinal 9-yard line, and the Trojans scored on the next play when Thiessen ran in with 1.6 seconds left in the quarter. Proffitt hit Shaq Thiessen for the two-point pass to tie the game at 14.
Sedgwick caught the next break midway through the second quarter when Shaq Thiessen fumbled a fair-catch punt and the Cardinals recovered the ball at the Trojan 29.
Four plays later, Thompson rolled in from three yards away and Brandt cashed in the two-point conversion for a 22-14 lead that held until halftime.
As the third quarter began, Hillsboro found itself teetering on the precipice of a serious deficit when Sedgwick marched from its 37-yard line to the Trojan 4 in nine plays. But linebacker Josh Davidson intercepted Thompson at the goal line and fell forward to the 1-yard line.
From there, Hillsboro pieced together an impressive 99-yard drive in 11 plays. The payoff came on a 37-yard pass from Proffitt to Evan Ollenburger, who caught the long pass around the 17-yard line, broke a tackle and ran in for the score.
Tyrell Thiessen carried the ball for the two-point conversion and another tie, this time at 22 with 4:37 left in the third quarter.
Sedgwick later reclaimed the lead with a 26-yard run by Brandt up the middle of the Trojan defense with 20.8 seconds left in the quarter. This time Thompson ran in the two-point conversion for a 30-22 lead.
Undeterred, Hillsboro immediately marched 63 yards and scored again with 8:59 left in the game when Proffitt dashed in from seven yards out. The key play in the drive was a 26-yard pass from Proffitt to Shaq Thiessen on a fourth-and-9 play from the Sedgwick 44.
Needing another two-point conversion to tie, Hillsboro fell short when Tyrell Thiessen was tackled short of the goal line.
Sedgwick then ate up 5 minutes of the clock with a 64-yard, 12-play drive that ended with Thompson scoring on a five-yard run. The Cardinals added the two-pointer to give them their biggest lead of the game at 38-28 with 3:47 left to play.
Even then, Hillsboro refused to roll over. The Trojans covered 55 yards in six plays and used only 1:06 when Proffitt connected with Ollenburger for a 30-yard score with 2:38 left. Burst missed the kick, but the Trojans still had a shot at 38-34.
Unfortunately, Sedgwick recovered the Trojans’ squib kick, and Hillsboro’s weary defense couldn’t secure a three-and-out as the Cardinals ran out the clock for the victory.
“I had some poor play calling in the first half that put us into some bad situations,” Sawyer said. “But I thought our kids continued to play hard. They had a lot of reasons to quit at some point, but they never did. The kids continued to fight—and they did that all year.”
Sedgwick (10-1) will play Beloit (11-0) in the next round of the state playoffs next Friday. Beloit defeated Holcomb in their regional matchup, 60-8.
Sawyer said his unprecedented success as a first-year coach was rooted in his talented seniors.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better senior class to come in here for the first year,” he said. “Those guys have played outstanding. They worked together. They’ve just been fun to coach.”
Three of those seniors formed the nucleus for Hillsboro’s productivity on offense for a team that outscored its opponents by an average of 38-12.
Proffitt, who stepped in as the surprise starter in Game 1, set a new school record for passing yards in a season with 2,332 and for touchdowns with 25.
The marks eclipsed the records Jacob Fish established in 2009 of 2,216 yards and 24 touchdowns. Fish still holds the per-game record at 221.6 yards compared to Proffitt’s 212.
Leading the Trojans’ talented corps of receivers was Shaq Thiessen, who caught 38 passes for 869 yards and 11 touchdowns. Tyrell Thiessen caught 43 passes for 551 yards and five scores.
A powerful runner, Tyrell Thiessen accumulated a team-high 773 yards and 10 touchdowns on 102 carries. Proffitt added 575 yards and 12 touchdowns on 162 carries.