It was the final game of the season for two teams who have struggled on the field this season when the Hillsboro Hiltoppers hosted the visiting Litchfield Purple Panthers.
And it was the Hillsboro Hiltoppers who would come out ahead with a 51-6 win Friday night, Oct. 19, on Sawyer Field.
Hillsboro came in with a less than sparkling record (2-6), but they had defeated Piasa Southwestern 44-0 last week; the Birds had defeated Litchfield 53-0 in the second week of play.
The Toppers recorded several statistical firsts in the game - linebacker Dylan McCammack ran an interception back 37 yards for a touchdown; picks had been rare this season, and a pick-six hadn't happened.
For the contest, Hillsboro nabbed three Litchfield passes and recovered two Panther fumbles while not turning the ball over themselves. That 5-0 margin reversed early-season Topper woes. Adam Gregg converted three PAT kicks; the first one came after the fourth Hillsboro touchdown in the first quarter and was the first for the senior placekicker this season. (The Toppers tried to run or pass for extra points throughout the season, so he hadn't had many chances).
Finally, for perhaps the first time in recent Hillsboro football history, every able-bodied player in the program (even the freshmen) dressed; and even more remarkably, every player saw some action on the field.
The game itself was over quickly for scoreboard winner determinations. Liam Dugan, who began the season as the blocking fullback in the Triple I formation, became the tailback through attrition (injuries to the two scatbacks on the team). After Kaden Lemon returned the opening kickoff to the Litchfield 35, Dugan ran to his left for a touchdown that was nullified by a penalty flag on the eight yard line. That put the line of scrimmage at the 23.
The reprieve was short, however, as Dugan garnered first 12 and then the final 11 yards to score easily less than 80 seconds after the game began. Quarterback Landen Carroll found Gregg along in the end zone with the extra point pass.
McCammack grabbed his interception along the east sideline on Litchfield's first attempted pass, third play from scrimmage; once he secured the ball and eluded would be tacklers, he sprinted for the score, his first as a varsity player.
This time, Carroll threw to Kaden Lemon for two points. With 9:12 to play in the first quarter, the Toppers had two touchdowns, but only one offensive possession.
The defense continued to be impressive as the Panthers didn't have a first down until Clayton Walch connected with Blaine Stewart for 18 yards at the Toppers 43. By then, it was 37-0 Hillsboro, and the only questions were how many Toppers would play and whether Litchfield would score.
After Lemon garnered 11, Jonah Harkins 11, and Carroll completed his only non-PAT pass to Jude Bertolino for 19 yards and a first down at the Panther three, Dugan carried twice to score standing up.
Colton Keiser scooted in for the extra point. Dugan would carry only twice after that score, though the first quarter was just half-over.
Jake Hefley's leaping interception of a Walch pass immediately after Gregg's deep kickoff put the Toppers in good field position for their next score, a five-yard Harkness' run that gave the Toppers a 30-0 margin with five minutes gone in the opening quarter. It finished a 22-yard, four-play drive, and Gregg kicked the extra point.
Brett Cunningham's tackle stopped Walch as he tried a quarterback draw in a fourth and four situation; he was stopped at his own 45. (One of the highlights for Litchfield was the kick returns of senior Alex Fischer, who had 135 yards on six returns).
By quarter's end, the Toppers were on the Panther 28, as seniors Noah McCormick and Jaykin Foster took over running back duties, but Hillsboro turned the ball over on downs shortly thereafter.
A nine-yard punt to the Panther 30 put Hillsboro back in business. Lemon gained eight, then approached the visitor's safety one on one on the next carry. A jump cut moved him safely past the defender and Lemon scored easily. Though it had no game-winner implications, a bad snap on the extra point attempt aborted a kick and led to an incomplete pass after a scramble, so the score remained 37-0.
When Walch's pass completion excited Litchfield fans on their next possession, Baron Floyd and Harkins met where Walch was attempting to pass; the sack for loss (seven yards) put the Panthers offense on defense again.
Another sack, by Keiser as linebacker, meant Litchfield had to punt from their 38; that punt went to Lemon, who returned it 73 yards for his second return score of the year. Gregg was true with the conversion kick; the clock would run continuously in the second half.
The ensuing Litchfield possession ended when cornerback Jace Tuetken intercepted his third pass of the season; in the first half the visitors had a negative six yards rushing and were one of seven throwing the ball (for 18 yards) with three interceptions. The Toppers, on the other hand, accumulated 192 total yards on offense.
Hillsboro used four quarterbacks in the second half, but Carroll had one series and one carry for five yards before his removal. McCammack, Tuetken and freshman Aiden Scroggins all played quarterback in the second half.
The first series featured Foster, who carried five consecutive times after Carroll's burst; after six plays Foster was in the end zone. Gregg then booted the last Topper point of the season to produce a 51-0 lead with 6:56 to go. Drew Willman kept the drive alive by recovering a fumble at the Panther nine.
Litchfield's tally came in the last quarter after a sustained drive (nine plays) that began with a pass interference call that moved the ball from their 20 to the 35. Fischer did most of the work (six carries, including the nine-yard touchdown run and the conversion carry), but freshman Drew Hartzell had a 27-yard run and Walch had a sneak for two yards that also kept the touchdown drive alive.
Hillsboro's season-end statistics will be printed in The Journal-News when space is available, as will Litchfield's. Enjoy the post-season games that Carlinville, Pana, Vandalia, Greenville and Staunton will play.
October 19 at Hillsboro
Litchfield (0-9) 0 0 0 8 - 8
Hillsboro (3-6) 31 13 7 0 - 51
1st: 10:47 - H - Liam Dugan 11-yard run (Jordan Gregg pass from Landon Carroll)
1st: 9:12 - H - Dylan McCammack 37-yard interception return (Kaden Lemon pass from Landon Carroll)
1st: 5:29 - H - Liam Dugan 1-yard run (Colton Keiser run)
1st: 3:51 - H - Jonah Harkins 5-yard run (Jordan Gregg kick)
2nd: 9:34 - H - Kaden Lemon 22-yard run (pass failed)
2nd: 7:16 - H - Kaden Lemon 78-yard punt return (Jordan Gregg kick)
3rd: 6:56 - H - Jaykin Foster 4-yard run (Jordan Gregg kick)
4th: 5:15 - L - Alex Fischer 9-yard run (Alex Fischer run)
Passing: Litchfield - Clayton Walch 1-9-23; Hillsboro - Landon Carroll 1-1-19, Liam Dugan 0-1-0.
Rushing: Litchfield - Alex Fischer 13-38, Drew Hartzell 6-29, Clayton Walch 8-27, Blaine Stewart 1-24, Jefferson Thomas 2-5; Hillsboro - Jaykin Foster 15-65, Liam Dugan 7-51, Kaden Lemon 3-41, Jonah Harkins 4-20, Noah McComick 4-20, Drew Willman 2-19, Landon Carroll 1-5, Andrew Law 1-2, Joseph Keiser 2-1, Austin Edwards 1-(-1), Jace Tuetken 1-(-1), Nate Lee 1-(-1).
Receiving: Litchfield - Colin Becker 1-23; Hillsboro - Jude Bertolino 1-19.
Defense (Solo/Assists): Litchfield - Dylan Maxwell (9/3), Alex Fischer (6/5), Jefferson Thomas (4/2), Hunter Niemann (3/2), Drew Hartzell (2/2), Nathan White (1/3), Levi King (2/1), Dustin Terrell (2/1), Clayton Walch (2/1), Austin DeWitt (1/0), Blaine Stewart (0/1); Hillsboro - Jonah Harkins (4/4), Jude Bertolino (3/3), Baron Floyd (5/1), Drew Willman (3/1), Colton Keiser (3/1), Jackson Hamby (1/3), Liam Dugan (1/2), Noah McCormick (1/2), Andrew Law (3/0), Dylan McCammack (2/0), Kaden Lemon (1/1), Brett Cunningham (1/1), Jordan Gregg (2/0), Landen Malloy (1/1), Marshall Hughes (1/1), Jake Hefley (0/2), Jace Tuetken (1/0), Tyler Loskot (1/0), Jaykin Foster (1/0), Brady Huber (0/1), Brock Bellaver (0/1), Travis Kane (0/1), Finn Tyszko (0/1), Maddex Scott (0/1), Austin Edwards (0/1).