Topper Comeback Bid Falls Just Short

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The worm known as football momentum turned on the Roxana Shells’ field Friday night, March 19, but it turned too slowly to help the Hillsboro Hiltoppers to a victory in the opening game of the first 2021 season. 

The Shells used a skilled kicker and a bit of trickery to jump to a 17-0 lead early in the second quarter, but the youngish Toppers then outscored them 14-0 the last 34 minutes of playing time. Hillsboro’s efforts were valiant but futile if all one values is a victory.

The Shells have a weapon not all high school teams have; senior Logan Wonders began the game by kicking the ball into the Topper end zone, eliminating the chance for a return, and began the scoring with a 37 yard field goal three minutes later. That ended the Shell’s first possession in a positive manner. The biggest play in that trip down the field came on a double reverse with Braeden Wells, one of seven Shells who would carry the ball, gaining 16 yards.

Quarterback Gavin Huffman, an all-around athlete who competes well in basketball, football, and baseball, completed seven of nine passes; his first five attempts were complete. Even though speedy wide receiver Parris White didn’t appear until the third quarter, the passing game was instrumental as the lead grew to 17-0. Roxana’s second drive was built on trap blocking by a big offensive line and back Nik Ward, who carried five times for 29 of the 66 yards required before stepping into the end zone from the two. The drive started when Wells intercepted a Topper pass into double coverage at the Shell 34. Ward scored 57 seconds into the second quarter, and Wonders converted the PAT.

He also put the ball flat on the ground for the ensuing kickoff rather than using a tee and executed an on-side kick which the Shells recovered at midfield. On the next play Huffman found Wells wide open at the Topper 20; when he caught the ball and scampered into the end zone, it was 16-0, soon to be 17-0, and a rout seemed imminent.

To their credit the Topper defense, led by the combined efforts of linemen Brady Huber, Ian Malloy, Magnus Wells, and Jude Bertolino; linebackers Blaze Helton, Jackson Hamby, and Drew Willman; and strong safety Jace Tuetken, shut the Shells down for the last 35 minutes.

Slowly but surely the offense organized itself into a rhythm. Hillsboro passed six times and ran Blaze Helton five times while driving from their 32 to the Shell 19 before turning the ball over on downs.

Willman recovered a Shell fumble on their 33, though, with the clock running down; runs by Tuetken (for three) and a sweep by Zane Duff (for 10) earned Hillsboro a first down on the Shell 20, but only 66 seconds remained in the half. Duff lost a yard, threw an incomplete pass along the sidelines, then connected with Bertolino in the end zone for the first HHS touchdown of the COVID season. Chance Murray added the PAT to make it 17-7 entering the second half.

Roxana ran eight plays after receiving the kick off; their second first down came when White gained 10 yards running to his right on a fake punt. Tuetken intercepted a Huffman pass on the Topper 10 and returned it to the 21 to end that drive.

From there, using short passes and Helton runs, Hillsboro controlled the ball for 14 plays; once Duff followed his line to sneak for five yards in a second and one situation. A 16 yard pass to Tuetken moved the ball to the Shell 12. Then a fumble aborted the drive. The ball lay on the ground uncovered for a few seconds before a Shell linebacker recovered it.

Turnover excitement was just beginning.

As the fourth quarter began, the Shells fumbled a pitch that Topper Maddex Scott recovered, giving Hillsboro possession on the Shell 26. After a five yard Helton gain, the Shells’ Holden Jones intercepted a pass in his end zone for a touchback.

With the help of an unnecessary roughness penalty, Roxana moved the ball to their 40, but then Huffman dropped the ball as he eluded pressure. He fell on it, but it was a ten yard loss. That resulted in the Shells’ only punt of the game.

Five plays later, Bertolino nabbed a 22 yard pass for a first down on the Shell 26. 4:30 remained. On fourth and nine, Duff passed to Tuetken for Hillsboro’s second touchdown before Murray made it 17-14.

That was the last time Hillsboro’s offense would touch the ball, however. After an unsuccessful on-side kick, the Shells rushed for two first downs before Huffman took a knee twice to end the action.

Greenville will be here this Friday, March 26, to open the home part of the Topper season; kickoff is at 7 p.m.

March 19 at Roxana

Hillsboro (0-1) 0 7 0 7 14

Roxana (1-0) 3 14 0 0 17

Scoring Summary

1st - 7:50 - Roxana - Logan Wonders 37-yard field goal

2nd - 11:03 - Roxana - Nik Ward 2-yard run (Wonders kick)

2nd - 10:48 - Roxana - Braeden Wells 50-yard pass from Gavin Huffman (Wonders kick)

2nd - 0:22 - Hillsboro - Jude Bertolino 21-yard pass from Zane Duff (Chase Murray kick)

4th - 3:52 - Hillsboro - Jace Tuetken 30-yard pass from Duff (Murray kick)

Hillsboro Statistics

Passing: Zane Duff 12-22-122, 2 TD, 2 INT.

Rushing: Blaze Helton 17-61, Zane Duff 10-36, Jace Tuetken 2-5.

Receiving: Jace Tuetken 5-58, Jude Bertolino 5-53, Drew Willman 1-9, Blaze Helton 1-2.

Tackles: Jackson Hamby 4/3, 1 fumble recovery; Jace Tuetken 6/1, 1 INT; Blaze Helton 5/2; Drew Willman 5/0; Brady Huber 2/2, 1 sack; Ian Malloy 5/0; Magnus Wells 5/0; Jude Bertolino 4/0; Maddex Scott 1/1, 1 fumble recovery; Joe Keiser 1/0; Bryce Connor 1/0; Kayden Liebscher 1/0; Tanner Clayton 0/1).

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