Hillsboro coach Lance Sawyer could have been down in the dumps after losing to Sterling 46-23 on Friday, but he was surprisingly upbeat about, of all things, his defense.
“The defense was doing what we wanted it to do,” Sawyer said. “I thought we hit well — you could hear the pads popping. I think we’re getting to the right spots. We’re just not converting once we get there.”
Converting means tackling, and much of the yardage gained by Sterling runners came after shedding would-be Trojans tacklers.
“We just never got people down,” Sawyer said. “I understand we gave up 46 points, but our offense gave up the points because we couldn’t convert on third-and-short.”
Hillsboro couldn’t even reach third-and-short on its first possession, as Sterling recovered a second-down fumble at the Trojans 35-yard line that led to the Black Bears’ first touchdown.
After a subsequent three-and-out, the Trojans got the ball moving, but penalties and miscues kept them off the scoreboard until the final drive of the first half.
“We were doing a lot of punting,” Sawyer said. “It seemed like we couldn’t get over the hump. We’d have two good plays, then the third one we’d have a mental mistake.”
Trailing 20-0, sophomore quarterback Kaden Kleiner connected on passes to four different receivers as the Trojans drove from their own 34 to the Sterling 11. After an illegal procedure penalty and three incomplete passes, they settled for a 26-yard field goal by Jeffrey Jorgenson.
Sterling tallied two touchdowns in the third quarter before Hillsboro struck again, this time on a kickoff return for a touchdown by Jorgenson.
Taking the kick in the middle of the field near the Hillsboro 20, Jorgenson split the first wave of Black Bears, then veered right as he outraced the rest to the end zone. With 57 seconds left in the third quarter, the Trojans trailed 9-32.
Two Sterling touchdowns later, with the score 46-9, Hillsboro reserve quarterback Jorge Hanschu engineered a 66-yard drive, with freshman Brooks Gardner scoring on a 1-yard run up the middle.
Junior running back Tyson Reimer scored the Trojans’ final touchdown on a 46-yard run, and Jorgenson kicked the extra point to account for the 46-23 final score.
The Trojans relied heavily on the short passing game, which worked against them, Sawyer said.
“It was probably poor play-calling on my part,” he said. “We needed to run the ball to set a tone with the offense, because people were just jumping our routes.”
Receiver Elliot Ollenburger was hobbled in the second quarter with an ankle injury, but receiver is a position where the Trojans have depth.
“We had some younger guys step up,” Sawyer said. “I thought Jason Funk and Carson Herbel played well.”
Defensively, Sawyer said Dawson Jost, Travis King, and Brodie Rathbone played well up front.
Sawyer knows he has to make adjustments and instill more disciplined play, but said he saw plenty of encouraging signs Friday.
“I think we have some potential,” he said. “Once we clean up some of those mental errors, we’ll be all right.”
Hillsboro will square off against Haven on Friday at Wiens Stadium. Both teams will be looking for their first win, as Haven lost its opener to Halstead 48-6.