Marion held a 21-14 lead over the Hillsboro High School football team with 3 minutes, 35 seconds to play in the second quarter.
The Warriors had all the momentum. For the first time all season, the Trojan defense looked vulnerable against the run. The lightning quick duo of running back Brody Carroll and quarterback Taylor Heidebrecht had carved the Hillsboro front seven for big gains. Marion’s blocking scheme, using the left guard to block down on Tyrell Thiessen, had allowed Warrior runners to burst into the second level of the defense untouched.
Marion was also going deep into the playbook. The Warriors opened the game with a play-action pass. While Carroll had the first and second touchdowns for Marion, wide receiver James Jones also had a 5-yard score when he lined up in the backfield to put Marion up 21-14.
Up a point, 14-13, Hillsboro forced a punt for the first time, a series keyed by a tackle for loss by cornerback Tyler Proffitt on an option run. However, the Trojans ran three plays on the following possession, which ended with an interception. It was a seemingly simple out route that bounced off the fingertips of Shaq Thiessen up into the air and into the arms of Jones.
“We made a lot of mistakes early that cost us two touchdowns,” Hillsboro head coach Lance Sawyer said.
Carroll punched the ball into the end zone on the following series. Marion converted the two-point conversion on a Heidebrecht pass to Caleb Williams.
The Trojans needed a big play to turn the game around. As he has done all year, Shaq Thiessen delivered.
“I just felt I had to make up for that mistake,” Thiessen said.
Thiessen took the following kickoff 95 yards. Using a key block from fellow receiver Micah Mashburn, Thiessen burst through the first wave of Marion tacklers and then cut back, sprinting to the goal line. He ran past every would-be defender and lunged over the goal line. Hillsboro missed the extra point to make the score 21-20.
Even though Carroll returned the ensuing kickoff to midfield, one of three such returns for Carroll, the Trojan defense responded. Tyrell Thiessen recovered a second Hiedebrecht fumble of the night with 1:06 left in the half.
Tyrell Thiessen picked up a first down on a screen play. On fourth-and-10, Lucas Sinclair ran a designed wide receiver, reverse pass for a first down, eluding one Marion tackler. Tyrell Thiessen ran another screen into the end zone on the next play, but a block-in-the-back penalty brought the play back. The drive ended with a sack fumble at midfield that Hillsboro was able to recover, but the Trojans accomplished the task of turning the momentum. They knew they had the ball to start the second half.
Ironically, Hillsboro gave some of the momentum back on the first drive of the second half. On a play that had worked all season, the fade to Shaq Thiessen, Jones recorded his second interception of the night on an underthrown ball. Jones would record another pick on a similar play later in the third quarter.
The Trojans forced a four-and-out on the subsequent Marion drive. Delk had the key tackle in a third-and-4 sweep play to Carroll. Jesse Brown broke up the fourth-and-four pass in the end zone. Heidebrecht was injured during the series and did not return. In one half, he had 114 yards rushing on 11 carries.
“Heidebrecht going down, that turned the game around,” Sawyer said.
With the passing game stifled, Sawyer diversified the Trojans’ attack on the next drive. Tyrell Thiessen ran on first down out of a three-back I-formation set, rare for the spread-orientated Trojans. Then going back to a four-wideout shotgun look, Proffitt ran up the middle to bring up third-and-2. Again out of shotgun, Evan Ollenburger took an end-around toss from Proffitt and ran for a first down on an option play. Out of a five-wide receiver set, Lucas Sinclair took a screen out of the bunch formation 9 yards.
With the Warriors on their heels, Hillsboro went back to the air, this time attacking over the middle. Shaq Thiessen caught a slant in traffic and ran by every defender for a 50-yard touchdown. Tyrell Thiessen was stopped on the two-point conversion, but Hillsboro led for the first time since opening the game at 7-0
The drive was an example of Sawyer’s best play-calling performance in his first year as Hillsboro head coach.
The Trojans’ first touchdown was scored on a 16-yard run by running back Preston Nelson. Nelson scampered into the end zone untouched. It was a trap play that Nelson broke through the right side of the line; Proffitt sold the rollout fake by handing off with his left hand and quickly running to his left.
Although Nelson had a touchdown run against Moundridge, he has mainly been a hard-nosed special teams player for Hillsboro. He is a team favorite because of his gritty play.
“I know he wanted to get that touchdown,” linebacker Tanner Jones said.
On the second touchdown, Sawyer used Marion’s emphasis on stopping Shaq Thiessen to the team’s advantage. From his position on the far right, in the four wide receiver set, Thiessen ran across the field on a cross and took two defenders with him. Ollenburger was sprung wide open on the corner route to the short right corner of the end zone.
Sawyer and defensive coordinator Scott O’Hare made a key adjustment on defense, putting six defenders on the line to stop the run. Once the Warriors were over matched on rushes, they were forced to pass. Brown recorded the first Trojan interception on the drive following the first Hillsboro touchdown of the second half. Shaq Thiessen recorded two interceptions, one in the end zone, on deep passes in the fourth quarter.
“They couldn’t block us,” Jones said.
With the lead, Hillsboro then went to the run to eat up the clock. Tyrell Thiessen picked up a 20-yard gain to lead to a 12-yard Proffitt touchdown. Out of a two-back shotgun set, Tyrell Thiessen and Nelson were pulling lead blockers for Proffitt on the play, which Sawyer said is difficult for other teams to defend.
The screen to Tyrell Thiessen was another play Hillsboro utilized. Sawyer credited the blocking of Hillsboro’s wide receivers, Ollenburger, Sinclair, and Shaq Thiessen. He also noted that Nathan Unruh usually provides key blocks on screens by running hard out of his position at tackle. Tyrell Thiessen was the second leading receiver for Hillsboro with 102 yards. Shaq Thiessen had the most yards with 112 on five catches.
Proffitt scored his second rushing touchdown of the night with 1:40 left in the game. He ended the night as the Trojans leading rusher with 98 yards on the ground. Shaq Thiessen said Proffitt’s tough running more than made up for throwing three interceptions in the game and helped inspire the Trojans to victory.
Tyrell Thiessen had the second most rushing yards for Hillsboro with 77.
More than their execution of Xs and Os, Sawyer was pleased with the way the Trojans responded to adversity. Now at 8-0 they have only trailed in two games this season.