The Hillsboro High School Trojans’ defense came up with three crucial fourth-down stops in the team’s victory over the Nickerson Panthers on Friday.
On the opening drive of the game, Nickerson reached first-and-goal at Hillsboro’s 6-yard line before the Trojans turned the Panthers away. Evan Ollenburger made a tackle for loss on first down. Quarterback Braden Stewart threw an incompletion on second down. Justus Hilliard batted down a pass on third down, and a receiver couldn’t gain control of a pass on fourth down before going out of bounds, giving HIllsboro the ball.
The Trojans weren’t able to gain much ground on their first possession and punted back to Nickerson. The Panthers scored a rushing touchdown on the ensuing drive, but Ollenburger intercepted a pass on the two-point conversion attempt. Hillsboro trailed 6-0.
The Trojans tied the game two plays later. Jesse Brown threw a 53-yard pass to Ollenburger, and Hilliard ran the ball in on a sweep to the left for eight yards. Brown intercepted a pass on Nickerson’s next possession and returned it to the Nickerson 37-yard line. He had to leave the game for a play after his helmet was pulled off while he was tackled, but on second down, Brown threw a 39-yard touchdown to Ollenburger. Another pass to Ollenburger on the two-point conversion gave the Trojans a 14-6 lead.
Ollenburger intercepted a pass on the Panthers’ next possession, but the Trojans went three-and-out and punted the ball back to Nickerson. Nickerson tied the game with a touchdown on a 29-yard option pitch and a two-point conversion.
Brown completed passes to Jordan Faul, Hilliard, and Ollenburger as the Trojans drove on their next possession. Brown threw a 21-yard touchdown to Ollenburger on a designed rollout to his right. The Trojans retook the lead, 21-14.
Jakob Hanschu prevented a touchdown run by Nickerson running back Jordan Lehman on the next possession, and the defense made the most of its second chance. The Panthers had first-and-goal from the 3-yard line, and Lehman rushed to the 1-yard line on second down. On third down at the 1, Hilliard made a tackle for a loss. The Panthers took another shot on fourth down, passing over the middle. The receiver had to come back out of the endzone to make the catch, and the Trojans stopped him before he could cross the goal line again with less than a minute left in the first half.
After halftime, Preston Nelson ran for 53 yards to put the Trojans in scoring position. After the Trojans moved the ball to the 18-yard line, Brown scrambled to his right then back to his left before finding Hanschu open for another Hillsboro touchdown. An extra point gave Hillsboro a 28-14 lead.
Hillsboro and Nickerson traded ineffective drives, and Faul intercepted a pass at the Trojans’ 48-yard line. Brown completed a pass on third down but was hit and suffered leg cramps as the third quarter wound down. Hanschu filled in at quarterback to start the fourth quarter and threw a touchdown to Hilliard on a corner route. Backup kicker Leo Sontag made the extra point, increasing the lead to 35-14.
Lehman made several long runs through the middle of Hillsboro’s defense before scoring on another run between the tackles with 10:30 left in the game. The Trojans stopped a two-point conversion and continued to lead 35-20. Hillsboro’s offense didn’t make plays on the next drive, and the Trojans punted back to Nickerson. Bryon Young rushed for another Nickerson touchdown, and a successful two-point conversion cut the Trojans’ lead to 35-28.
The Trojans again had to punt with 4:08 left in the game. Cody Delk’s punt was downed at the Nickerson 22-yard line. Nickerson’s physical run game moved the ball to the Hillsboro 24-yard line with 1:48 left. The Panthers pushed to inside the 10-yard line before the Trojans turned them away with their third fourth-down stop of the game. When Stewart’s pass with 1:04 fell incomplete, the Trojans were able to kneel the ball and hold on to victory.
Compared to the week before, the Trojans’ offense relied more on passes downfield than short passes. Continued improvement in pass blocking gave Brown more time for receivers to get open.
“They’re doing their job,” Brown said of the linemen. “They’re doing great.”
Head coach Lance Sawyer said Brown did a good job spreading the passes out to multiple receivers, which forced the Panthers to cover Ollenburger one-on-one — a challenge few high school cornerbacks are up to.
Hillsboro’s next game will be at 7 p.m. Friday at home against Hesston.
Jesse Brown: 15/27, 243 yards, 3 TDs.
Jakob Hanschu: 1/1, 8 yards, 1 TD.
Preston Nelson: 2 carries, 52 yards.
Justus Hilliard: 4 carries, 20 yards, 1 TD.
J. Brown: 8 carries, 18 yards.
J. Hanschu: 3 carries, -1 yards.
Evan Ollenburger: 7 receptions, 149 yards, 2 TDs.
J. Hilliard: 5 receptions, 57 yards, 1 TD.
Jordan Faul: 1 reception, 22 yards.
J. Hanschu: 1 reception, 19 yards, 1 TD.
Cody Delk: 1 reception, 5 yards.
P. Nelson: 1 reception, -1 yards. Runners improve times