Hilliard saves Hillsboro in thrilling 34-28 offensive shootout
For four years, former Trojan football coach Len Coryea never got the job done.
Even with arguably the greatest team in Hillsboro High School history three years ago, the Smoky Valley Vikings were still unbeatable.
Coryea’s predecessor, Dustin McEwen, did it once — 10 years earlier.
First-year coach Max Heinrichs has had his share of headaches from the Smoky Valley Vikings, dating back to his tenure at Minneapolis, going 1-8.
Change has been in the air at Hillsboro with a new coach, new players, and a new field; and Friday night in Hillsboro, because of the heroics of junior Caleb Hilliard, the Trojans’ luck with the Vikings changed, too.
With the Trojans on the ropes of possibly suffering their first loss and seeing the Vikings extending the curse, Hilliard intercepted a shovel pass on third-and-goal to snap the hex in overtime, 34-28.
In a battle of first-year coaches, it was Heinrichs who got the upper hand on the Vikings’ Chris Hattabaugh.
“Once again, what it comes down to is our enthusiasm,” an exasperated, yet ecstatic Heinrichs said. “The kids are having fun and that’s what matters. They’re just loving it. I am so happy for these kids.”
The Trojans (2-0) had plenty of reason to lose their enthusiasm, especially after the Vikings put together a game-tying 7minutes 19second drive to force overtime and Ethan Frantz’s PAT kick nailing the right upright in overtime.
With three lead changes in the first half and as many ties throughout the game, neither team failed to display their explosive offenses.
The Vikings showed that right off the bat with Ben Eppenbach bursting up the middle for 64 of his game-high 160 yards rushing and the first of three touchdowns.
Smoky’s PAT kick was blocked by Chance Reece, but the Vikings still had a 6-0 lead.
The Trojans wasted little time responding as Ben Bebermeyer bolted the ensuing kickoff 87 yards down the Hillsboro sideline.
Two minutes into the game, Frantz had Hillsboro on top, 7-6 with the point after.
The offensive flurry continued with Dixon Olson hitting Eppenbach for a 24-yard score to help regain the lead for the Vikings, 14-7, after a two-point conversion.
Hillsboro was equally as productive as Smoky Valley, scoring on three out its five first-half drives while rolling up 297 total yards.
Jacob Fish threw for a career-high 242 yards and three touchdowns — including the clincher.
The Trojans kept their foot on the gas, answering right back with Fish going long for Jacob Edwards on a 60-yard bomb.
Once again, the score was knotted with 2:33 into the second quarter.
Hillsboro regained the lead on its next drive, 21-14, with Fish firing to Hilliard for a 41-yard gain to get the Trojans to the Viking 28.
Fish and Bebermeyer connected two more times for 25 yards, including the go-ahead 7-yard score with 6:22 left in the first half.
Even with the Trojan defense in the Vikings’ backfield all night and sacking Olson five times, Hillsboro couldn’t keep Smoky down.
The Vikings had the game tied at the break, engineering a 10-play 65-yard drive, which ate up 5:13 off the clock.
Eppenbach gashed Hillsboro for another big gain, ripping off 40 yards to begin with and helped the Vikings pick up 185 yards rushing from 42 carries.
Nine plays later, Eppenbach was in for the third time, scoring on a third-and-2 from the 2-yard-line with just over a minute left before halftime.
The second half hardly started before Fish was picked off inside Trojan territory by Nick Deterding on the opening drive.
The Vikings turned the ball right back over on their drive with Taylor Hagen intercepting Olson and returning it 35 yards down the Viking 7.
Reece untied the game, bullying his way in from the 1 to put Hillsboro back in front, 28-21.
All Hillsboro had to do was hang on and sustain drives.
That didn’t work with the Trojans’ next two, stalling at the Viking 30 and 23.
Luckily, Trojan defense never allowed the Vikings past mid-field until the eternal drive.
The Vikings dodged disaster three times during the game-tying drive with a questionable catch on fourth down — keeping them alive.
They escaped again at the Trojan 27 with Olson recovering a fumble with under a minute to go.
Hillsboro wild-man Chris Schafer drilled Olson on third down for a 6-yard loss to perhaps turn the Vikings’ lights out.
The game wouldn’t have been complete without some trickery.
It was the Vikings providing it with Olsen firing to Deterding, who tipped it to Steven DeWitt on a hook and ladder on fourth and 14 for the game-tying 27-yard score.
Fish and the Trojans had one last chance to end the game in regulation, but Jake Johnson got to him as time expired.
The Vikings won the toss in overtime and elected defense.
Reece was dropped on first down for a 2-yard loss before Fish found Bebermeyer for a 12-yard TD.
Frantz’s missed PAT gave the Vikings momentum, but Hilliard stomped it out.
“We knew Smoky is a great team and they were going to hit us in the mouth,” Heinrichs said. “It’s been a while since we beat them and I know my record against them is now 2-8. They’ve been a nemesis of mine for 10 years so this was big.
“I asked the kids to step up and play and they did. They could’ve put their head down when they scored that. We got back to doing what we do well, that three-step drop and pass. Hilliard’s been a good move-in for us.”
The Trojans stay at home again Friday, hosting Ellinwood at 7 p.m. at Wiens Stadium.