Trojans end bumpy season on winning note
Kleiner leads Hillsboro to thrilling 30-28 victory in Trojan War
With the season all but over after a frustrating loss a week earlier at Marion, Trojans pride was on the line in Thursday’s season finale.
On paper, it appeared a long shot, considering Hillsboro’s visiting opponent: Southeast of Saline had demolished Marion in the district opener.
Word of that must not have reached the Trojans, or first-year coach Devin Metzinger.
Hardly intimidated by Souteast’s speed and its 7-1 record, the Trojans closed out an up and down season in winning style in a 30-28 thriller.
That ‘win’ may not have happened without junior quarterback Kaden Kleiner.
Kleiner wreaked havoc on the SES defense, outdoing its total offensive output alone with 368 total yards and 4 touchdowns.
Hillsboro wasted little time jumping on SES, cashing in after a Jeff Jorgenson interception when Kleiner found Braden Vogt for an 8-yard touchdown.
Jorgenson’s PAT attempt was no good, but the Trojans had pulled in front 6-0 with just under 3 minutes remaining in the first frame.
The lead wouldn’t hold, as SES took to the air to grab a 14-6 edge by halftime. Bryce Banks threw long for Grant Tillberg on a 73-yard score, and tossed a 17-yard touchdown to Kyler Berry.
But there would be no denying Kleiner or the Trojans.
Kleiner engineered an 11-play, 89-yard drive, with the quarterback punching it in for his first of two touchdowns rushing, a 6-yard dive with under 4:00 left in the third quarter.
Jorgenson struck again with an interception on Southeast’s next drive, setting Hillsboro up at its own 40.
The Trojans regained the lead four plays later with Kleiner firing to Jacob Funk for a 19-yard score. Kleiner made it a 20-14 game, scoring on the 2-point attempt.
Hillsboro used a short field to push its lead to 23-14 after the drive stalled at the SES 8, settling for a 25-yard field goal from Jorgenson.
SES wouldn’t go quietly, recovering a bad exchange on a handoff to take over at Hillsboro’s 10.
One play later, SES was hot on Hillsboro’s tail with Hunter White scoring on a 10-yard run to cut the lead to 23-20.
On a year that’s seen a few more big plays by opponents, Kleiner made arguably the biggest of them yet.
Facing a third-and-5 at Hillsboro’s 45, Kleiner sidestepped an SES defender and glided into the end zone for a 55-yard touchdown. Jorgenson’s PAT gave the Trojans a 30-20 lead.
With 3:45 left, SES still had plenty of time to spoil Hillsboro’s night and 10 plays later, SES was again knocking on the door at Trojans’ 8-yard line.
Banks found Tillberg again for both the touchdown and 2-point conversion for the 30-28 final with 1:00 remaining.
Brooks Gardner thwarted any chance of an SES comeback by recovering an onside kick to allow Hillsboro to run out the clock.
The Trojans rolled up 403 total yards, spearheaded by Kleiner’s game-highs 189 yards rushing and 179 passing.
“It was a huge win for the team, and the town for that matter,” Kleiner said. “The seniors really deserved that final win. They put so much sweat and hard work into their final season and it was up to us underclassmen to do everything we could to put them in a position to win. We did exactly that.”
Metzinger praised his seniors for adapting and working hard this season.
“Our seniors have been great all year long,” Metzinger said. “Having a new coach on your final year is always rough, but this group committed it to the program and competed every single day.”
SES still managed to clinch a 3A playoff spot as district runner up to Hesston.
The Trojans’ season ends at a competitive 3-6 overall, 3-5 in league play, and 1-2 in district action, with four of the six losses coming against postseason qualifiers.