Hillsboro?s Ethan Frantz wraps up Spartan running back Raymond Taylor with the help of Caleb Hilliard (below) and with Jacob Edwards ready to assist. The play gained three yards for the Spartans in their opening series.
In all likelihood, Hillsboro needed to play a near-perfect game even to compete with undefeated Wichita Collegiate in the regional championship game Saturday night.
That didn?t happen. Six turnovers in the first half?including five interceptions, two of which returned for touchdowns?led to a 48-0 halftime debacle and the same final score.
Hillsboro got off to a promising start, halting the Spartans? first possession in the minimum four plays. But on Hillsboro?s third play from scrimmage, Bryce Cornejo picked off a Jacob Fish pass, giving the home team the ball at the Trojan 32-yard line.
On the first play from scrimmage, quarterback Jake Jablon?ski threw to Brett LeMaster in perfect stride for a 33-yard score at the 8:55 mark. Ethan Frantz blocked the point-after kick to keep the score at 6-0.
In hindsight, coach Max Heinrichs said that dramatic turn of fortunes may have decided the contest.
?You can?t put your head down, but we did,? he said. ?They?re just a very good team.
When Ben Bebermeyer had trouble finding the handle on the ensuing kickoff, HHS started its second possession at its own 3-yard line. After a completion gave the Trojans a first down at the 13, Fish?s next pass was picked off by LeMaster, who ran it in 25 yards for Collegiate?s second touchdown.
A 2-point pass fell incomplete, keeping the score 12-0 with 7:29 left in the opening quarter.
When Fish was picked off for the third time on the Trojans? next play from scrimmage, giving Collegiate the ball at midfield, even the most hopeful Trojan fan could see a dark trend developing.
Sure enough, Jablonski connected with Brandon Searle on Collegiate?s next play for a 30-yard touchdown pass. A missed kick kept the score at 18-0.
Three plays into the Trojans? next possession, Fish threw his fourth interception of the quarter, but this time Collegiate could not cash it in.
Soon after, the Spartans started their longest sustained drive of the game late in the first quarter and scored 61 yards later on a 10-yard, fourth-and-10 pass from Jablonski to Tre Bailey with 8:02 left in the first half. This time Collegiate converted the 2-point pass for a 26-0 lead.
On Hillsboro?s next possession, Fish picked up good yardage on a third-down scramble. But as he went down, the ball came loose and the officials ruled it a fumble. Collegiate recovered at the Trojan 41.
On the next play, Jablonski connected with Bailey for a touchdown. Another successful 2-point pass put the score at 34-0 with 6:12 left in the half.
The bad news just kept coming. On the Trojans? first play from scrimmage on the ensuing possession, Cornejo picked off a the fifth Fish pass of the half and ran it in for another score. A successful kick made it 41-0 with 5:46 left.
What else could go wrong in one half? Maybe one more lapse in pass coverage. After the Trojans punted at the end of an eight-play possession, Jablonski rang up another touchdown pass?this one an 83-yard catch-and-run by LeMaster with 2:24 left in the half. A successful kick made it 48-0.
?I watched a lot of film on them this week, and I watched how they?ve improved,? Heinrichs said of the Spartans? blitzkrieg. ?They?re hitting on all cylinders right now. That could be your state champion right there.
?I thought, athletically, our guys matched up pretty well,? he added. ?But they?re four to six inches bigger than we are at every spot. That?s just what caused it.?
By agreement of the two coaching staffs, the second half was played with a running clock. Even so, the Trojans? tough luck continued, even against the Spartan?s junior varsity.
After HHS took the second-half kick and marched 54 yards to the Spartan 40, a Fish pass fell into enemy hands for the sixth time. Collegiate then drove from its own 38 to the Trojan 5 in 15 plays before Hillsboro?s defense stiffened, and HHS took over on downs.
The Trojans did have one legitimate chance to score late in the abbreviated game after Taylor Hagen recovered a Collegiate fumble at the Spartan 32.
Fish threw an incompletion to Bebermeyer in the end zone on the first play from scrimmage, then threw his seventh interception of the game on the next?and last?play of the night.
The lopsided loss tainted an otherwise outstanding season for Hillsboro, who finished at 7-4 with a district championship and a two-game ride into the state playoffs in Heinrichs? first year at the helm.
?When I took the job, I thought we were better than what some people thought we would be,? he said. ?I liked their talent and some of the other things I saw. They just came along and played.
?I had a great senior bunch,? he added. ?They?re just good kids, and they were having fun. It?s too bad we had to lose this way because they had fun clear to the end.
?It?s a good season for us. We hope to improve on it, we hope to ride it and take into next year and get it going again.?