‘Heart’ stopper

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HHSfbLeihycmykP9050019.jpg

As teammate Brandon Brown (56) looks for the next block, Hillsboro running back Isaac Leihy attempts to break the grip of a Sacred Heart defender during the first quarter of Friday?s game. Leihy gained seven yards on this run and finished the game with 80 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries.

A game that turned into a shootout between two young squads ended when the Hills?boro Trojans stopped Sacred Heart?s do-or-die bullet in the final seconds to escape with a dramatic 35-34 win in Friday?s season opener at Salina.

The Knights appeared to have the Trojans dead in their sights when they cashed in on a 10-play, 54-yard touchdown drive in the final 4 minutes of the game, pulling to within 35-34 with 41 seconds left to play.

But on the 2-point conversion attempt, the Trojans front line, led by 6-foot-4, 201-pound senior John Hein, stopped running back Colby Wetter short of the goal line to preserve the victory.

?I thought we did well,? said a smiling Len Coryea, HHS head coach. ?I can?t praise them enough. It was just fun.?

It look anything but fun for Coryea & Co. in the early going. It appeared the Knights would have their way with the Trojans, using a no-huddle offense to march up the field almost at will for two scores and a 12-0 lead in the first 9 minutes of the contest.

But one play into Hillsboro?s next possession, Jacob Fish, starting at quarterback in place of an ailing Ben Gottsch, heaved a pass toward wide receiver Daniel Jost. The all-state senior made a leaping catch downfield, then dashed into the end zone after his defender went down for a 65-yard score. Isaac Leihy?s kick made it 12-7 with 2:38 left in the opening period.

?Once we got that first touchdown, I knew we could get some rhythm going,? Coryea said.

After Sacred Heart stalled on its next possession, the Trojans struck again, capping a five-play, 34-yard drive with running back Ishmael Morris scoring from a yard out.

A 33-yard pass from Fish to Jost set up the short touchdown run. Leihy missed the extra point, but a roughing-the-kicker penalty gave Hillsboro a second chance. This time, the Trojans went for two points, and Fish hit Jost with a quick slant pass to give HHS its first lead at 15-12 with 9:50 left in the half.

After the Sacred Heart offense stalled again, the Trojans drove 65 yards in 12 plays, mostly through the air. Jost scored again, this time on a lob pass from Fish from 18 yards out and with 2:08 left in the half.

Leihy?s PAT kick was blocked, but Hillsboro led 21-12.

Sacred Heart suddenly recovered its early-game form on the next drive, marching 69 yards in seven plays with quarterback Conner Martin hitting Mark Riordan with a 14-yard scoring strike on a fourth-and-10 call with 35 seconds left in the half.

The 2-point conversion run by Martin made it 21-20 at intermission.

In the third quarter, the Trojans stopped the Knights on the opening possession, then marched 73 yards in six plays, including a 39-yard run by Leihy midway through the drive.

Leihy eventually crossed the goal line from four yards out, then kicked the extra point to give HHS a 28-20 lead with 7:39 left in the third quarter.

After the two teams traded possessions, Sacred Heart started at its own 40 with 34 seconds left in the third quarter and engineered a 16-play drive that ended when Wetter crossed the goal line from four yards out with 5:29 left in the fourth and final period.

Wetter added the 2-point conversion run on an option pitch to tie the game at 28-28.

But Hillsboro wasn?t through.

On second-and-three at the Sacred Heart 46, Morris bulled his way up the middle, broke a tackle upfield with a spin move, then raced to the end zone to put the Trojans back in front with 4:10 to play. Leihy?s kick made it 35-28.

?This is what I was kind of worried about?we didn?t want to get into that run-and-shoot matchup and try to outscore them,? Coryea said.

?You know, you tell (your team) there?s five minutes left and we need to get a running game going and run out the clock and go in and score.

?Well, we screwed up there because Ishmael broke that long run. That will work, though,? he added with a smile.

The quick score set up Sacred Heart?s final drive, which seemed destined to be a game-winner. Twice, Sacred Heart converted critical fourth-down plays?once after gaining 30 yards on a third-and-33 pass play from deep in their own territory, then later scoring on a fourth-and-goal at the 5-yard line on a pass from Martin to Riordan with 41 seconds left on the clock.

Even through the Knights were moving the ball through the air and around the end, Coryea said he wasn?t really surprised that the Knights tried to win the game on a straight run up the middle.

?Their success up the middle was almost five yards every time,? he said. ?We talked about that, but I thought maybe they?d run an option.?

Led by Martin?s 230 yards on 13-for-29 passing, Sacred Heart edged the Trojans in total offense, 373 yards to 301. Riordan caught six of passes for 134 yards and Wetter contributed a game-high 113 rushing yards on 22 carries.

Hillsboro countered with 181 yards through the air on Fish?s 9-for-12 performance. Jost caught six balls for 141 yards.

?Fish was marvelous out there after he settled down,? Coryea said, then added with a smile: ?Now I?ve got a quarterback controversy.?

On the ground, Morris and Leihy gave Hills?boro an effective one-two punch. Morris finished with 82 yards on 12 carries while Leihy was right behind with 80 yards on 11 carries.

?The running game wasn?t like I wanted it (early in the game),? Coryea said. ?We have only two lineman who have played varsity football in the last two years. But we made some adjustments (to the blocking scheme)?and it worked.

?That?s great for our kids on the line.?

Coryea said the win over a team that went 10-1 last season was huge for his young team.

?I know they?re down a little this year, but they?ve got all that playoff experience?that carries over,? he said. ?You get some wins when you?re not as good because you have all that confidence. Then, you throw in a talented quarterback, and their kids aren?t slow on the edge.

?These are the games you remember for life. They?re fun.?

Coming?The Trojans? next test will be Friday against a perennially tough Smoky Valley squad at Reimer Field. The Vikings defeated Haven in their season opener, 28-12.

Game time is 7 p.m.

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