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Trojans look to the future after Council Grove loss

News editor

After every home football game, the Hillsboro Trojans kneel in a circle in the north end zone of Reimer Field, listening to coach Lance Sawyer recap game points and set the table for the next game.

The gathering after Thursday’s 12-7 loss to Council Grove was different. There was no need to belabor the loss, for there was no next game. Instead, the circle became an emotional passing of the guard as Sawyer was joined by senior captains while addressing the team.

“They left the team to the underclassmen’s hands,” Sawyer said. “It showed the leadership they displayed all season. They talked about how they enjoyed the effort their teammates put in. It was an emotional scene with kids who truly believe they’ll miss this chapter in their lives.”

Save for quarterback Justus Hilliard’s dazzling freelancing on a 37-yard, broken-play touchdown run in the second quarter, there was little about the game that deserved a look back. The Trojans turned the ball over on an end zone interception on their first possession, and squandered a last-minute fumble recovery at the Braves’ 21 by failing to score what would have been a winning touchdown. In between, the defense kept the contest close, but the Trojans drew more penalty flags than in any other game of the season.

Sawyer said the off night was mostly a result of kids trying too hard to make something good happen.

“They were all trying to make the big play,” Sawyer said. “They were just a little too hyped for that thing. I thought the kids needed to calm down and relax a bit and they would’ve played a bit better.”

It wasn’t just the players, either. The coaches green-lighted a fake punt attempt deep in Trojan territory that failed, leading to Council Grove’s first touchdown.

“The fake punt might not have been the best decision, but we gave them the option to try it if they thought it was there,” Sawyer said. “Our mindset was that we wanted to finish the season on a win and we wanted to do anything necessary for them to get it.”

Wins were in short supply for the Trojans — they scored only two, beating Sterling and Lyons. Sawyer had high praise for his “most vocal” captains, Hilliard, Jesse Meier, and Graham Pankratz.

“Any time you’re not successful, the ability of the captains is vastly important to keep the kids going,” Sawyer said. “They never let anybody give up. That says a lot for our senior leaders. Every Monday they were ready to start again. The leadership qualities that they came out with, you can never expect a high school kid to do what those kids could do. I was impressed every day.”

Sawyer was upbeat about prospects for next year based on improvements he saw from underclassmen this season.

“Our junior varsity continued to improve this season, and I think they’re excited for what’s to come,” Sawyer said. “If we can get the sophomore and freshman classes to continue improving, I don’t think we rebuild next year. I think we actually compete and win some games.”

Last modified Nov. 6, 2014

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