Although realists would say one has to win an athletic contest to have a good feeling about the result, both players and parent/fans of Hillsboro’s football team should have left Piasa Friday evening, April 23, in relatively good spirits. The Toppers lost to the Birds 25-20, but the battle was spirited and the outcome in doubt until the final minutes.
Several Toppers had outstanding games statistically. On the offensive side, wide receiver Jace Tuetken finished his high school football career with nine receptions for 182 yards, not including a 35 yard dazzling catch that was nullified by a penalty. In addition, Drew Willman had a season-high five catches and junior Bryce Connor had the first catch of his varsity career to keep a drive alive.
Blaze Helton registered the first 100 yards rushing total of the season (and of his young career). That means a feeling of satisfaction for the offensive line, particularly center Brady Huber, guards Carsen Maddaleno and Reese Morford, and tackles Magnus Wells and Ian Malloy. Of that group, only Huber is a senior. The offense gained 313 yards against a traditionally bulky Bird defense line whose only loss in this abbreviated season was to Carlinville.
Defensively Jackson Hamby had eight solo tackles and three assists to be in double figures on the tackle chart; closely behind him were linebacker Maddex Scott (nine solos), Wells (four and four), Willman (seven and one), and both Huber and Garet Schaake, with six solos and one assist each. In addition, sophomore Cameron Haacke had his first and the team’s only interception.
The Birds, blessed with a big (210 pound) senior quarterback, Sam Wolff; two junior backs with size and speed, Blake Funk and Gavin Day; and a slightly built but fast receiver, Pauly Garrett, to go with eight linemen at 230 lbs. or bigger, jumped to an early 13-0 lead.
Taking the opening kickoff, Piasa went 60 yards using six plays with Funk skirting his left end from the Topper 18 for the score (which the fire-shooting dragon mascot celebrated). Their only successful extra point kick followed.
Hillsboro tried to answer, but a holding penalty cancelled a Tuetken run to midfield (holding calls were a game-long problem). The ensuing PSW drive ended on downs at the Topper 19.
The second Bird score came early in the second quarter after offsetting penalties wiped out another Funk td run, but three plays later Wolff fought his way from the 5 to the end zone.
This time the kick missed, but Topper fans seemed resigned to another “Nice try, but we’re overmatched” game, especially after 265 lbs. Ashtin Sorgea recovered a Topper fumble on the Hillsboro 32.
The defense rallied, though, dumping Garrett for a six yard loss on an end-around in a fourth and three situation. Despite disputed intentional grounding and holding calls, the Toppers scored their first touchdown in nine quarters when the Duff to Tuetken combination struck. Tuetken had reached the Bird 32 before another holding penalty caused angst in the Topper stand. The result of the call was first and forever from the Topper 31.
1:54 remained in the half when Tuetken broke tackles to reach the Piasa 35; the completion was for 34 yards and meant a first down, barely.
Then a first down pass was just out of Jude Bertolino’s reach, and passes to Tutken and Willman were also incomplete, but on fourth down Tuetken survived three hits along the west sideline, spinning free to score with 1:21 to play in the half. Chance Murray kicked the extra point to help revive hope.
The teams swapped interceptions but no points in the third quarter. Quinton Strohbeck intercepted Duff at the Bird 35 and returned it to the Topper 44, where Duff gained revenge by tackling him; Haacke intercepted Wolf deep in Topper territory and returned the ball to the Topper 11.
Hillsboro began their we-want-the-lead touchdown drive there; Duff and Helton both ran with determination until a pass to Tuetken for 40 yards put the ball on the Bird 15 with 1:48 left in the quarter.
Helton carried three consecutive times to score on the first play of the fourth quarter; Murray’s successful kick meant Hillsboro was ahead 14-13. It was the first time they enjoyed a lead in 2021 since the first quarter of the Greenville game on March 26.
Southwestern stopped the euphoria, but not the drama, quickly. After the kickoff, the Birds, using a personal foul call, five running plays, and two completed passes, grabbed the lead back as Day scored up the middle from five yards out.
It took them just over two minutes to regain the lead, 19-14, but when their conversion pass failed, the Toppers needed only a touchdown to make the trip home a happy one.
A kick-off that sailed out-of-bounds gave Hillsboro good field position. A pass to Tuetken for six softened the defense for Helton, who battled for 16 and a first down at the Bird 43.
Duff gained eight on a keeper, then threw to Tuetken for six more and another first down just inside the enemy 30. Helton gained eight, but a loss of three brought a third and five call. The Birds jumped; that five yard penalty meant a first down on the 19; hopes were rising.
After a time out, Connor caught his pass on the 7, but then Piasa’s defense stiffened. On fourth and goal, Garrett jumped a passing route, grabbed the ball, and outraced everyone down the sidelines. When he crossed midfield, it was obvious no one could catch him, and within seconds it was Piasa 25, Hillsboro 14.
In true gladiator mode, Hillsboro would score the final points of the game. Mixing passes to Tuetken and Willman with handoffs to Helton, the Toppers drove 74 yards in the five minutes left in the game.
Helton ran with determination to account for almost half those yards before scoring from the 2. A pass for extra points failed, and with only 7.4 seconds to play, the season was in the books.
Season statistics will be printed in The Journal-News soon; the fall season hopefully will begin in four months.
April 23 at Piasa
Hillsboro (0-6) 0 7 0 13 20
S'western (5-1) 7 6 0 12 25
1st - 9:13 - Southwestern - Blake Funk 18-yard run (Sam Robinson kick)
2nd - 8:29 - Southwestern - Sam Wolff 5-yard run (kick failed)
2nd - 1:21 - Hillsboro - Jace Tuetken 35-yard pass from Zane Duff (Chase Murray kick)
4th - 11:55 - Hillsboro - Blaze Helton 7-yard run (Chase Murray kick)
4th - 9:41 - Southwestern - Gavin Day 3-yard run (pass failed)
4th - 5:45 - Southwestern - Pauly Garrett 99-yard interception return (kick failed)
4th - 0:07 - Hillsboro - Blaze Helton 2-yard run (pass failed)
Passing (15-29-226): Zane Duff 15-29-226, 1 TD, 2 INT.
Rushing (32-147): Blaze Helton 19-105, 2 TD; Zane Duff 11-44; Jace Tuetken 2-(-2).
Receiving (15-226) - Jace Tuetken 9-182, 1 TD; Drew Willman 5-35; Bryce Connor 1-10.
Defense (solo/assists): Jackson Hamby 8/3; Maddex Scott 9/0; Magnus Wells 4/4; Drew Willman 7/1; Garret Schaake 6/1; Brady Huber 6/1; Blaze Helton 3/2; Zane Duff 2/2; Jaben Compton 3/0; Ian Malloy 3/0; Jude Bertolino 1/1; Cameron Hacke 0/2; Bryce Connor 1/0; Carsen Maddaleno 1/0; Dalton Reynolds 0/1; Reese Morford 1/0.