An undefeated regular season, Central Kansas League championship, and district championship were all sealed with a Hillsboro High School football win Thursday over Halstead in Halstead, 35-8.
“Even before the season started, I had a good feeling we were going to do something great this season,” senior Lucas Sinclair said.
Coach Lance Sawyer said that his team is a special group. He said he set the goal of a district championship at the beginning of the season, but even talented teams can stumble at some point during a nine-game football season. The reason the Trojans are special, why they have played so well this season, is that they are unselfish.
The Trojans have won games in a myriad of different ways this season. They took over shootouts with Hesston and Marion. The defense dominated in wins over Sterling, Nickerson, and Smoky Valley. The Trojans pummeled lesser teams like Lyons and Moundridge.
The team added to its repertoire by grinding out the win over Halstead with physical runs and short passes, putting together long drives.
Senior running back Tyrell Thiessen had his best game of the season on Thursday. He was the leading rusher for Hillsboro with 121 yards on 14 carries, good for an 8.6 average gain. He was also the Trojans’ leading receiver with 73 yards on two catches.
With perhaps the Trojans’ signature play this season, Thiessen took a left-side screen pass 64 yards for a touchdown with 5 minutes, 26 seconds left in the first quarter. Halstead defenders were only able to grasp at Thiessen as he blazed past them. The 275-pound back was patient enough to use stellar downfield blocks from left tackle Nathan Unruh and left guard Dylan Jirak to spring him on the sprint to the goal line.
On the next possession, Thiessen recorded two first downs on shotgun handoffs. His work moving the chains was rewarded when he took a fourth-and-goal screen pass into the end zone 9 yards untouched to give Hillsboro a 14-0 lead.
Thiessen would score again on a 5-yard run to put Hillsboro up 21-8 in the third quarter. He easily could have had five touchdowns. He was downed at the 1-yard line after he converted an inside shotgun handoff into a big gain. Quarterback Tyler Proffitt ran in for the score to put Hillsboro up 35-8. Thiessen also broke a long run in the fourth quarter and had a clear route to the end zone but he graciously stepped out of bounds to not run up the score.
While the Trojans did not need another score, Hillsboro needed all of Thiessen’s yards. Normally using a balanced offense, Hillsboro ran 44 times compared to 25 passing attempts.
Thiessen has had a great season as Hillsboro’s featured back, but Sawyer said he could have asked for many more carries as would befit him in many of the rushing-oriented Kansas high school offenses.
“He would have 1,000 yards rushing if we gave him the ball 30 or 40 times a game,” Sawyer said.
Having a similarly dynamic senior campaign is Thiessen’s brother, Shaq Thiessen. Shaq Thiessen has scored a touchdown in every game this season and he notched another score when he took a quick hitch on the right side of the field 16 yards into the end zone. He made one tackler miss with a stutter step and then ran by another Halstead defender before diving past the goal line. It was his only catch of the night.
“Shaq’s an all-stater and he only gets one catch,” Sawyer remarked.
Although he has the talent, Shaq Thiessen lacks the attitude of a prima donna receiver. He is willing to run out routes even when facing double coverage to help spring a teammate. Sawyer has commented on his willingness to block on screens and outside runs.
Shaq Thiessen also has the speed to score any number of different ways. He has multiple rushing touchdowns this season, a kickoff return TD, and a TD after a bad punt snap.
Playing at safety, Shaq Thiessen has recorded at least one interception in nearly every game this season; he had another pick on a floating pass in the second half against Halstead. He has yet to take one all the way back to the house, but it may only be a matter of time.
The player that personifies the team-wide unselfishness is Lucas Sinclair. At wide receiver, Sinclair and Evan Ollenburger are mirror images — running bubble screens, slants, end arounds, and sweeps for Hillsboro.
With the bulk more befitting a slot receiver, it was more often Sinclair who took the screen on the weak side of a bunch formation so he only had one receiver blocking for him. Breaking a big play is out of the question; he just has to fight for positive yards. He had five catches on Thursday for 35 yards; one of those was a first-down screen pass on third-and-2 that helped keep the drive alive for Tyrell Thiessen’s second touchdown catch.
On defense, it was more often Tyrell Thiessen or Tanner Jones who made the tackles for loss for Hillsboro. Tyrell Thiessen on one Halstead possession had two crunching hits on quarterback Jonah McKee. Being the quickest of the line-backing trio, Sinclair plays most often on the backside of runs and is tasked with tracking down a runner who gets past the line of scrimmage and picks up a big gain. When he does his job correctly, his contributions are hard to notice even though he is making drive-saving tackles.
He is also tasked with covering tight ends. He recorded an interception in the end zone on Thursday when he tipped a pass intended for a tight end up in the air and came down with the ball.
Even though he made big plays this season, what Sinclair has done was not glamorous. He has not found the end zone often this year for Hillsboro.
The season could have totally been different for Sinclair. He was the favorite to be the Trojans’ quarterback at the beginning of the year and barely lost the job to Proffitt a week before the season started.
It would have been reasonable for Sinclair to take that personal defeat hard, to be a shell of himself playing out of position. He said it has never been an issue.
“Me and Tyler are good friends,” he said. “I’m having a lot of fun playing receiver.”
The Trojans are having a lot of fun and they do not want it to stop. The team huddled around the district plaque they received on Thursday, reveling in the accomplishment. There is another trophy they want to win.
“I can assure you the state plaque is way cooler than that one,” Sawyer told the team.
It was the first time state aspirations had been mentioned by the Trojans. To make noise in the playoffs, Sawyer and Sinclair said the team needs to play mistake-free football. Sawyer said penalties were killers on Thursday.
Proffitt threw one interception and threw twice into double coverage with the ball landing safely on the turf.
The Trojans also continue adding weapons to their game. The primary addition on Thursday was a no-huddle offense. Hillsboro ran the majority of their plays out of a fast-paced no-huddle in the second half and put together a string of quick-hitting running plays and passes to get the offense going.
“We’ve talked about being up-tempo all year and we’re starting to get there,” Sawyer said.
For now, the Trojans have done what they have needed to do, which was win all their games to get the best possible seeding. Hillsboro played league-foe Haven, 5-4, Tuesday in Hillsboro.
If they win Tuesday, the Trojans would play the winner of Sedgwick, 8-1, and Chaparral, 4-5 on Saturday. If Hillsboro can get past the second round, 9-0 Beloit or 8-1 Holcomb would most likely be waiting on Nov. 9.