Toppers Sprint To Third Straight Victory

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Hillsboro’s varsity football team (and their fans, who proved more durable than the host’s fans if numbers remaining in the stands through the fourth quarter are the indicator) had to have questions on their minds as they approached Southwestern High School just west of Piasa on Friday evening, Oct. 15.

The Birds had begun the season at 4-0, and they had defeated the Toppers 25-20 last April 23 to end the abbreviated, hopefully never again, spring season. The Toppers had started 0-5 as they struggled to learn new schemes while playing the South Central teams who had measurably better speed. Paris was the imported non-conference team; the 5-2 team from near the Indiana border was already playoff eligible entering the weekend. Although the Tigers won that game 3-0, it was a sign the Toppers were evolving into a team better than their record.

They then proved they were better by disposing of two conference foes in what many observers considered toss-up games, Gillespie and Staunton; meanwhile, Piasa had dropped three in a row, to the same teams (minus Paris) who had treated Hillsboro roughly. With a 4-3 record, Piasa needed a bounce-back win to become playoff eligible. Although the 2-5 Toppers were far away from hearing their name called Saturday evening, Oct. 23, when playoff pairing are announced, hopes were alive. Some analysts think 4-5 teams might make the cut this fall, depending upon their points total - if an opponent has a 9-0 record, Hillsboro receives nine points, for example - but to receive even minor consideration, the Toppers had to win out. That meant a near-playoff atmosphere existed.

It was playoff weather, too. Though there was no wind in Hillsboro at let’s-leave-for-the-game time, there was a cold northern wind whipping across the field in Piasa and it was soon followed by a mix of drizzle and light rain. It made the field and ball slippery and bleacher life less than pleasant. 

The game, though, went well for Hillsboro; running behind their superior line (tight end Kayden Liebscher, tackles  Maddex Scott and Ian Malloy, guards Magnus Wells and Reese Morford, and center Kyle Butler), the cadre of Topper backs (QB Zane Duff and running back Blaze Helton, Jaben Compton, Blaine Stewart, and Joe Keiser) prevailed 41-14. Defensive secondary hits by Cameron Hacke, Dalton Reynolds, and Brayden Fowler also helped. Hacke had an interception, only the Toppers’ second of the season. 

It was closer than the score, though. A 45 yard touchdown run by Blaze Helton on Hillsboro’s third play from scrimmage didn’t count because of a penalty near the beginning of the run; nine plays later, the possession, the only one for the Toppers in quarter one, ended on the Bird one when a handoff went awry. Hillsboro gained 50 yards in the quarter; Piasa only 25, but the score was 0-0, and cold rain was falling.

Hillsboro broke the tie early in the second quarter as Jaben Compton sprinted off tackle from over 30 yards out, then added the extra point (not a rare occurrence; the week before, against Staunton, Compton had a unique scoring performance - a receiving touchdown, a conversion kick, a conversion run, and a field goal).

Southwestern struck back quickly as senior Gavin Day scored on a 74 yard pitch down his right sideline; the defender assigned to the pitch man slipped on the wet turf, and Day was gone. When Collin Robinson added the extra point, the game was tied.

The Toppers’ response was immediate. Brayden Fowler returned the kickoff for 12 yards. Then Helton carried six of the seven next plays (Stewart had a carry in the midst of the drive) and scored from the three with 3:58 to play in the half. The conversion attempt was a kick, but when the snap slipped away, Duff picked it up to throw to Stewart darting into the end zone to make it 15-7.

Hillsboro received the second half kickoff. Again featuring bruising runs by Helton behind his bruise-inflicting line, Hillsboro scored after ten plays. Helton carried eight of those plays before scoring from the four. He gained 62 of the 68 yards; Stewart and Compton had three yards each.

By then the rain and the wind had stopped, but the temperature and the dampness still made it football weather. The Toppers scored again in the quarter. The defense stopped the Birds on the Hillsboro 39 late in the third quarter; Helton made a significant gain, and a penalty against Piasa at the end of the play (a horse-collar tackle)moved the ball to the host’s 24. Helton again had most of the carries from there. With 1:40 left in the quarter, Duff scored from the enemy three; it was 28-7, Hillsboro.

The Birds didn’t surrender easily. 97 seconds into the fourth quarter senior Blake Funk (he, Day, and quarterback Quentin Strohbeck comprised the biggest Bird threats) scored from the Topper 10; Robinson added the PAT to make it 28-14. The last scores were Hillsboro’s, though.

Helton scored next from the 20, but Compton’s quick hands skill set made that run possible on the previous play. Compton burst through the line, but a linebacker hit him and the ball popped in the air. Somehow Compton caught it; and he, the linebackers, and the ball fell on the 20. Helton barged in from there.

With Helton on the sidelines showing wear and tear after his very productive offensive and defensive game, Compton put up the last points with a 21 yard touchdown and a successful PAT with 3:24 to play.

The second half Topper performance made the weather less important as the game progressed; the sky had cleared and the moon was shining before the return - trip caravan had reached Shipman.

Regular season action ends this Friday, Oct. 22, when Litchfield comes calling. Kick-off is scheduled for 7 p.m.

October 15 at Piasa

Hillsboro (3-5) 0 14 14 13 31

S'western (4-4) 0 7 0 7 14

Scoring Summary

2nd - (H) - Jaben Compton 34-yard TD run (Jaben Compton kick)

2nd - (S) - Gavin Day 74-yard TD run (Collin Robinson kick)

2nd - (H) - Blaze Helton 3-yard TD run (Blaine Stewart 2-pt. pass from Zane Duff)

3rd - (H) - Blaze Helton 4-yard TD run (Jaben Compton kick)

3rd - (H) - Zane Duff 3-yard TD run (kick failed)

4th - (S) - Blake Funk 10-yard TD run (Collin Robinson kick)

4th - (H) - Blaze Helton 20-yard TD run (conversion failed)

4th - (H) - Jaben Compton 24-yard TD run (Jaben Compton kick)

Hillsboro Statistics

Passing: Zane Duff 0-1-0.

Rushing: Blaze Helton 30-221, 3 TD; Jaben Compton 7-89, 2 TD; Blaine Stewart 9-45; Zane Duff 5-43, 1 TD; Joseph Keiser 5-17.

Defense (Solo/Assists): Blaze Helton 5/3; Ian Malloy 2/5; Magnus Wells 4/2, 1 sack; Brayden Fowler 4/1; Zane Duff 3/1; Jaben Compton 3/1; Cameron Hacke 2/1; Dalton Reynolds 1/1; Blaine Stewart 1/0; Ethan Schreiber 0/1; Maddex Scott 1/0; Garet Schaake 1/0.

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