Hillsboro Beats Litchfield In Season Finale

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It was military night at Sawyer Field Friday, Oct. 22, when Hillsboro High’s football team welcomed cross-county rival Litchfield for the final game of the 2021 season. Pundits expected a relatively easy win for the Toppers, given the way the teams’ seasons had gone. Both had begun with 0-5 records, but Hillsboro exploded offensively in their next three games, scoring 137 points while holding opponents to 45 to win those games. Litchfield, a potentially explosive team battling youth and consequently inexperience hadn’t been close to a win.

Score-wise, those pundits were right as Hillsboro parlayed an opportunistic defense and a balanced offense into a 35-0 lead during the first quarter. Strike first and often is a successful military tactic; perhaps inspired by the camouflage jerseys provided by the National Guard to augment the patriotic atmosphere, Hillsboro’s offense compiled 152 rushing yards and 114 passing yards in the opening quarter while the defense held Litchfield to 35 total yards in those same 12 minutes.

However, anyone expecting another Topper score and a quick (mercy-rule) clock for the entire second half underestimated the pluck of the Panthers. Their defense, bending but not breaking, didn’t allow another touchdown until the third quarter was partially gone. By then Panther speedster Keenan Powell had returned the second half kickoff for a 75 yard touchdown. The Toppers didn’t reach the 40 point quick clock trigger until early in the last quarter. Much happened before that.

Hillsboro jumped way ahead by scoring on each of their first five possessions. The first consisted of four consecutive Blaze Helton carries for 40 yards before Blaine Stewart scored from the visitors’ 19. That seemed fitting since Stewart had returned the opening kickoff (Litchfield won the toss but deferred so they could receive the second half kickoff.) Magnus Wells ran for the extra points; the drive used just over two minutes of clock.

Litchfield’s first drive ended on the second play when Brayden Fowler intercepted a pass at his 45 and returned it to the Panther 21. Joe Keiser scored from there two plays later; Wells’ senior teammate/lineman Ian Malloy barged in for the extra points, giving him family bragging rights for most points scored in a high school football game.

Litchfield’s offense still didn’t have a chance to take the field. Jaben Compton’s onside kick was recovered by Dalton Reynolds on the Litchfield 47. After Duff’s pass to tight end Kayden Liebscher fell incomplete (Duff had only two incompletions in the game), Helton carried twice, to the 29 and then to the endzone. This time the conversion run was not successful.

The Purple Panthers fielded the ensuring kickoff on the 50, but four downs gained nothing as the Topper defense was highly enthusiastic about their prowess. Two plays later Duff floated a pass to Bryce Connor along his left (the east) sideline for the Toppers’ fourth touchdown. This time a pass for extra points didn’t work; still, it was 28-0 with five minutes left in Quarter One.

Litchfield had a chance soon thereafter. Quarterback Tate Dobrinic’s punt was muffed, and Panther sophomore Hunter Hancock recovered on the Topper 30. AJ Sypherd carried twice for a first down, but the drive only reached the Topper 11 where a move (either an incomplete shovel pass or a forward fumble) stopped the invasion.

Though the Toppers were 89 yards away from a score, the wave of success (and Helton’s strength through the line) moved them out to their 26. From there, Duff and Compton caught the visitors gearing up to stop another run, and the resultant 74 yard pass and run meant another six points. Compton kicked the PAT.

No one scored in the second quarter, though Litchfield’s defense stopped Hillsboro on downs at the Panthers’ 1 in the last minute of play. Fowler, Cameron Hacke, Reynolds, and Stewart clamped off the Panthers’ passing attack; linebackers Duff, Helton, and Compton teamed with big defensive linemen Wells, Malloy, Maddex Scott, and Reese Morford to eliminate running threats. Liebscher provided relief in the line; Garrett Schaake and Joe Keiser spelled the linebackers effectively. It took a team effort to slow the visitors.

Powell, Martivious Jones, Dobrinic, and Shepherd, the primary skilled-position players for Litchfield, were both young (one freshman, three sophomores) and relatively small (160 lbs tops) for varsity play. Senior Drew Hartzell had size (190 lbs), but his jobs (blocking as a fullback offensively and tackling as a middle linebacker defensively) had to be tiring.

After Powell’s return td. opened the second half, the Toppers responded well on their first possession. Following the formula that had success in the first quarter, Helton gained 32 of the 46 yards (Schaake returned an onside kick to the Litchfield 46) on five carries; Keiser gained six on the third play of the drive, and Stewart scored the touchdown from the 8.

Duff’s touchdown throw to Liebscher (it would have been his first varsity touchdown ever, and the students on the behind-the-endzone bleachers were ecstatic for him) was nullified by a holding call as the third quarter ended. 

Thanks to a dead-ball penalty on the Litchfield bench, the Toppers had the ball on the Panther 6 thirty seconds after the last quarter started, and Keiser scored from there. Wells booted the extra point, the last point the Toppers would score in the fall 2021 season.

Litchfield reached the Topper 14 in the last minute of play after Hunter Hancock recovered a bad pitchout on the Topper 40, but the clock was allowed to run out on the 14. 

Season stats will be available soon in The Journal News.

October 22 at Hillsboro

Hillsboro 35 0 6 7 48

Litchfield 0 0 6 0 6

Scoring Summary

1st - (H) - Blaine Stewart 19-yard TD run (Magnus Wells run)

1st - (H) - Joseph Keiser 20-yard TD run (Ian Malloy run)

1st - (H) - Blaze Helton 29-yard TD run (conversion failed)

1st - (H) - Bryce Connor 40-yard TD pass from Zane Duff (conversion failed)

1st - (H) - Jaben Compton 74-yard TD pass from Zane Duff (Jaben Compton kick)

3rd - (L) - Keenan Powell 75-yard kickoff return (conversion failed)

3rd - (H) - Blaine Stewart 8-yard TD run (conversion failed)

4th - (H) - Joseph Keiser 6-yard run (Magnus Wells kick)

Individual Statistics

Passing: Hillsboro - Zane Duff 4-6-123, 2 TD. Litchfield - Tate Dobrinich 5-23-44.

Rushing: Hillsboro - Blaze Helton 22-179, 1 TD; Blaine Stewart 4-51, 2 TD; Joseph Keiser 6-44, 2 TD; Zane Duff 3-13; Dylan Lessman 1-11; Magnus Wells 2-2; Jaben Compton 1-0; Brayden Fowler 1-0. Litchfield - Drew Hartzell 7-24; A.J. Sypherd 8-22; Tate Dobrinich 5-(-3).

Receiving: Hillsboro - Jaben Compton 1-74, 1 TD; Bryce Connor 2-48, 1 TD; Blaine Stewart 1-1. Litchfield - Carson Saathoff 2-26; A.J. Sypherd 2-22; Martavious Jones 1-(-4).

Defense (Solo/Assists): Hillsboro - Blaze Helton 8/3, Ian Malloy 3/2, Magnus Wells 2/2; Dalton Reynolds 2/2, Jaben Compton 1/3, Brayden Fowler 3/0, Cameron Hacke 1/1, Ethan Schreiber 1/0, Maddex Scott 1/0, Jace Stewart 1/0, Zane Duff 0/1, Blaine Steart 0/1, Kayden Liebscher 0/1. Litchfield - Tyson Friesland 2/3, Drew Hartzell 2/2, Corbin Schneck 2/2, Owen Baugher 1/1, Jake Cunningham  0/2.

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