Wildcats squeak past Trojans 14-13
Haven holds off Hillsboro in heartbreaker
Better than 75 percent of Hillsboro’s offense was on the sidelines for the Trojans’ final tune-up before district play Friday at Haven, with do-it-all quarterback Kaden Kleiner nursing a foot injury.
With both teams starved for a victory at 1-4, the Wildcats were just the team Hillsboro needed to snap a four-game slide and gain some much needed momentum.
However, it was not to be, with Brooks Gardner being stopped on a two-point conversion that would’ve given the Trojans the go-ahead score with 8:12 left in the contest.
The Trojans, instead, limp into district play at 1-5 after dropping a 14-13 heartbreaker.
“The guys didn’t give up,” a frustrated Trojan coach Devin Metzinger said. “The close ones hurt more, especially because the missed opportunities stand out. You miss the opportunity to get a couple of first downs, or to score, they stand out even more. We’ve got to figure out how to capitalize and get better on those.”
Particularly glaring were at least 9 possible points Hillsboro left on the field, along with a weak 2-for-11third-down conversion rate, and 0-for-3 on fourth downs.
Hot off a season-high 127 rushing a week ago, Gardner, and the Trojans struggled to establish a running game, finishing with a modest 43 yards for 55 total on 29 carries.
Even tougher was the Trojan defense limited Haven to a mere 168 yards, outgaining the Wildcats by 75.
After going three-and-out on the first drive of the contest and kicking into a strong south wind, the Trojans had an excellent chance to jump in front when the Wildcats fumbled the return.
Jacob Funk pounced on the live ball to set Hillsboro up at the Wildcat 25.
With Gardner and Darian Ratzlaff splitting duties at quarterback, Gardner hit Funk on a fourth-and-5 for what would have been an 18-yard touchdown.
The two combined for 188 yards passing with Ratzlaff completing 5 for 9 for a game-high 127 yards.
A penalty negated the call and the promising drive stalled back at the Wildcat 23.
Operating out of an offense using a spinning quarterback and featuring four backs in the backfield, Haven’s Thane Unruh ripped off a 57-yard gain to the Trojans 5.
Two plays later, Wyatt Winter was in for a 2-yard touchdown with 5 minutes, 56 seconds left in the opening frame.
Hillsboro denied the two-point conversion, but once again found itself doing what it has since the first week — facing an uphill climb, 6-0.
The Wildcats stretched the lead to 14-0 after a Ratzlaff pass was intercepted by Haxton Smith for a 21-yard return.
The pick set up a 1-yard touchdown by Jacob Ediger with 7:49 to go before the break.
With the game in jeopardy of slipping away, Hillsboro converted its biggest third down of the night with Ratzlaff going long to Funk for a 76-yard touchdown on the ensuing drive.
Wes Shaw cut the lead in half with the PAT kick hitting the right upright but bouncing through with 5:55 left in the half.
From that point on, both defenses took center stage.
Hillsboro took a gamble to start the second half, recovering an onside kick in Wildcat territory, but the drive fizzled at the Haven 30.
The Trojans went 0-for-5 on third downs in the second half, and both teams struggled to make it past midfield.
The Trojans were stuck at their own 42 when Gardner hooked up with Caleb Potucek for a 57-yard touchdown that made for the final score.
The Wildcats stopped Hillsboro on fourth down and eventually preserved the win by running out the clock.
“Both guys (Ratzlaff and Gardner) did a great job of stepping in for us,” Metzinger said of his two fill-in quarterbacks. “We told them all week we don’t expect you to play perfect, just give us a ton of effort. Both of them did that.”
The Trojans open district play at 7 p.m. Friday night against the visiting Hesston Swathers.
Last modified Oct. 12, 2017