Comets Survive Toppers' Hot Start

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For the first eight minutes of the Greenville/Hillsboro game at Sawyer Field on Friday evening, March 26, the comparatively young Toppers seemed superior to the more physical Comets, but then reality came to visit.

Chatter swept through the Topper stands as Hillsboro jumped to a 14-0 lead. After giving up one first down through the air, Hillsboro’s defense forced the Comets’ only punt to end the first possession. Beginning on their own 27, the Toppers rode the passing combination of Zane Duff to Jace Tuetken on a seven play, 73 yard touchdown drive. To score they had to recover a fumbled snap and a sack, but Duff threw three completions to Tuetken down the left quadrant of the field (moving north) for 66 yards, including a ten-yard touchdown pass. Though the extra-point kick sailed left, Hillsboro held a 6-0 lead, the first advantage they had enjoyed in the young season.

Greenville covered the ensuing kickoff on their 41, but after a pitch sweep earned Tommy Baker 11 yards, a Comet receiver fumbled when hit on the Topper 38, and Tuetken recovered.

That set the stage for another drive. On third and seven, Duff passed to Blaze Helton for 13. Drew Willman caught a pass for six before Tuetken caught another for 18, moving Hillsboro to the Comet 21. Duff scrambled for four, then found Tuetken again for the touchdown. Tuetken also caught the conversion pass; it was 14-0.

However, anyone putting the game in Hillsboro’s win column at that point underestimated the opponent, who had lost at home to Carlinville last week and didn’t intend to lose again. Duff was seven of nine passing at that point,  a hard percentage to maintain, and the Toppers had a minus four yards rushing. The Comets had run only six plays in total; their most effective runner, Nathan Grull, was waiting for a chance.

He didn’t wait long. After the kickoff, Grull gained four yards before an overly-eager defender crossed the line too soon; facing a second and one, Grull skirted end for 34 and then again for 21 yards and the first Comet touchdown. When he barged into the end zone for the conversion points, the Comets had new life.

A short Topper punt and a Jack Schaufelberger to Landon Moss pass meant Greenville was only 24 yards from tying the game as the quarter ended. A key moment in the half came three plays into the second quarter when the Comets handed the ball to Grull on a fourth and three attempt; the big guy gained five behind good blocking to sustain the drive.

After a pass to Moss moved the ball to the 10, Grull scored and then added the extra points. Leading 16-14, the visitors would only extend, never surrender, their advantage.

The extension came quickly as the visitors scored two more touchdowns in the last ten minutes of the half. An interception by Jaylon Betts at the Comet 25 at the 7:09 mark became a touchdown as Schaufelberger found Baker open near the 50 on the next snap, and the senior speedster raced untouched for the score. Grull made it 24-14.

After Helton fought for 11 yards and a first down, Duff suffered a coverage sack and had to punt. Baker returned his kick to the 39. Two plays gained nothing, and the defense held a Grull reception to four yards, but on fourth and six, Schaufelberger threw to Betts for 21 to continue the drive. Five plays later Easton Maroon scored from the two. That finalized the halftime score at 30-14.

Duff was sacked for a 10 yard loss on the first play from scrimmage in the second half, setting the tone in a negative way for Hillsboro fans. The Comets started their next drive from the midfield; it took only one play for Grull to score points 31 through 36 from there. He gained 179 for the game on 20 carried despite his slow start. Shaufelberger threw for 123 yards while completing seven of nine attempts.

The Toppers answered (though young, they don’t give up) by driving from their 28 to the Comet 8, mixing passes to Willman and Tuetken, runs by Helton, and Comet penalties to sustain the effort. When Helton scored from the 8, 67 seconds remain in the third period; the two point conversion play failed because of a fumble even though Ian Malloy recovered it.

The Comet scrimmage line was on their 44 after the kickoff; Baker gained 10 on a sweep pitch, and Grull went wide left for 23, then up the middle for 6 (to the Topper 18) as the quarter ended. Grull scored as the last quarter began and added the extra points; individually he accounted for 32 of the Comet’s 44 points, and he’s only a junior.

Duff had an exciting run(from his 48 to the Comet 10) early in the last quarter, but a holding call at the point where his run began cancelled that run. That possession ended on the Comet 38 six plays later, and the Comets used the clock wisely to preserve control until the final whistle.

Hillsboro won part of the statistical battle: Duff passed for 182 yards (but rushed for only 39) and ran more plays from scrimmage (57 to 44), but the Comets combined consistently better field position and a higher yards per offensive play advantage (8.6 to 3.9) to gain the win.

Now 0-2, Hillsboro will face Carlinville here this Friday, April 2; kickoff is set for 7 p.m.

March 26 at Hillsboro

Greenville (1-1) 8 22 6 8 44

Hillsboro (0-2) 14 0 6 0 20

Scoring Summary

1st - 6:57 - Hillsboro - Jace Tuetken 10-yard pass from Zane Duff (kick failed)

1st - 3:21 - Hillsboro - Jace Tuetken 18-yard pass from Zane Duff (Zane Duff 2-pt. pass to Jace Tuetken)

1st - 1:51 - Greenville - Nathan Grull 21-yard run (Nathan Grull 2-pt. run)

2nd - 10:07 - Greenville - Nathan Grull 10-yard run (Nathan Grull 2-pt. run)

2nd - 7:09 - Greenville - Tommy Baker 75-yard pass from Jack Schaufelberger (Nathan Grull 2-pt. run)

2nd - 0:29 - Greenville - Easton Maroon 2-yard run (pass failed)

3rd - 10:44 - Nathan Grull 50-yard run (run failed)

3rd - 1:07 - Hillsboro - Blaze Helton 8-yard run (run failed)

4th - 11:52 - Nathan Grull 18-yard run (Nathan Grull 2-pt. run)

Hillsboro Statistics

Passing (14-26-182): Zane Duff 14-26-182 1 TD, 1 INT.

Rushing (31-39): Blaze Helton 13-48; Zane Duff 16-30; Jace Tuetken 2-12.

Receiving (14-182): Jace Tuetken 9-147; Drew Willman 4-22; Blaze Helton 1-13.

Defense (solo/assist): Blaze Helton 6/4; Jackson Hamby 5/5; Ian Malloy 4/2; Drew Willman 4/2; Jace Tuetken 4/1; Brady Huber 3/2; Magnus Wells 3/2; Jude Bertolino 1/2; Maddex Scott 0/2; Carsen Maddaleno 2/0; Tanner Clayton 0/1; Jaben Compton 1/0; Bryce Connor 0/1; Joe Keiser 1/0; Kayden Liebscher 1/0.

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