As Hillsboro fans filed out of Wiens Stadium after Friday’s 22-14 loss to Haven, they could easily have been mulling what-ifs?
The Trojans came through with some big plays. Kaden Kleiner connected on two long touchdown passes, a 50-yard strike to Carson Herbel and a 39-yard score to Jorge Hanschu. A trick conversion attempt netted two points from lineman Ryan Stepanek.
But missed opportunities were the Trojans’ undoing.
Jacob Funk’s leaping attempt to snag an end-zone pass in the first quarter came up empty, as did Jeffrey Jorgenson’s subsequent field-goal attempt. A third-quarter 53-yard scoring pass from Kaden Kleiner to Jorge Hanschu was nullified by a penalty.
Defensively, the Trojans forced two Haven fumbles, but couldn’t recover either. Trailing 22-14, a fourth-quarter encroachment penalty on fourth-and-3 gave the Wildcats a first down and the chance to run nine plays and six minutes off the clock.
The Trojans had 5:40 left when they got the ball back to mount a final comeback attempt, but the Wildcats stripped the ball from Kleiner on a fourth-and-1 run and ran out the clock for the win.
Coach Lance Sawyer was frank when talking about the miscues.
“Still too many,” he said. “It’s just plays we can’t have. The kids are learning and working hard, it’s just the mental side of things we’ve got to learn.”
Sawyer was disappointed the Trojans couldn’t convert two first-quarter drives inside the Wildcats 30-yard line into points.
“We’ve got to learn to finish drives,” he said. “We have the talent to move the ball, we just gotta learn to put it in the end zone. We’re not going to win many games only scoring 14 points.”
For a second game, the Trojans relied heavily on the arm of Kleiner, who had two touchdown passes and completed 14 of 23 for 154 yards.
“I think that might be the nature of the beast,” Sawyer said. “Kaden throws the ball really well and we’re going to utilize his talents. If we can mix it consistently where we go both long and short it will greatly help our offense.”
Hillsboro will be an underdog when Halstead comes to town Friday. The 2-0 Dragons pummeled Haven in their first outing and beat Hesston in their second.
Sawyer said practices would emphasize run defense and mental toughness.
“They’re going to run the ball and we know we’ve got to stop it,” he said. “The biggest question is, ‘What attitude are we going to come into the game with?’ We have the talent to win games, and we just gotta believe we can do it. These kids have to expect they can be great.”