Five of the ten South Central Conference football teams will have the five wins necessary to make the IHSA playoffs this fall. Pana, Vandalia, and Greenville seem assured of playing in November; Carlinville is a probable, despite their 2-3 record after their win Friday; and Staunton, Roxana, and Gillespie are hopefuls. Perhaps that hope fueled Gillespie's 34-6 win on the Toppers' home field on Friday, Sept. 27.
Gillespie's points all came in either the second or fourth quarter, but the turning point in the rather evenly matched contest came late in the first twelve minutes. The Toppers had survived two pass interceptions and had reached the Miner 44, partially because of Dom Bates, who had a 7 yard catch for one first down and an eight yard gain on a reverse (Jonah Harkins fought ahead to convert that play into another first down). When Joey Lipe (his 138 yards on 20 carries made him the leading rusher for the contest) churned ahead for seven, Hillsboro was on the Miner 37 with momentum on their side.
The Miners took that momentum away, interrupting a sweep for a three yard loss before an overthrown pass meant the ball and the momentum was Gillespie's; 1:34 remained in the quarter.
Seven plays and less than two minutes later junior John Berry carried an eight yard Frankie Barrett pass into the end zone. It was Barrett's first completion of the game and the momentum became confidence for the visitors. Berry's right foot added the PAT. To the Toppers' credit, though, they didn't melt.
With Lipe lugging the ball 9 times, Hillsboro carried the ball 15 times over the next period, trying only one pass (by way of contrast, Hillsboro rushed only seven times in the second half). At the five minute mark, Lipe reached the Miner 12 after a 27 yard highly contested run. With the next snap, Lipe carried to the 2, but a block in the back penalty nullified the threat; instead of the 2, the line of scrimmage was the Miner 24. Three plays later Gillespie took over on downs on the Miners' 20.
Enthused by the stop, the Miners drove 80 yards using eight plays to double their lead with 1:24 to go in the first half. Berry burst free to gain 16 when his team faced a third-and-eleven on the first series after his team had possession; on the ensuing first down. Barrett connected with fullback Billy Gill for a 45 yard gain that convinced the Miners they could score again before halftime. After three incomplete passes, Barret found tight end Jake Carter striding alone into the end zone; the kick was good again, and the Toppers trailed 14-0.
Hillsboro responded after Gavin Griffith's kick-off went out of bounds. Lipe covered the 59 yards to the Miner 6 in five carries (he had 107 yards in the second quarter, at times pulling tackles for five yards). Quarterback Jace Tuetken spiked the ball to stop the clock with 28.8 seconds left, but the next three plays lost two yards as time ran out. The dynamics of the game changed dramatically after that.
The Toppers didn't give up, but the Miners experience allowed them to accumulate an advantage in time of possession. Hillsboro ran the ball only six times in the third quarter, once in the fourth; Gillespie protected their lead by rushing the ball 31 times in the second half. Their "Keep the ball moving by inching down the field" strategy ate the clock and eventually allowed them to pull away. Neither team invaded too deeply into enemy territory, though, until a Miner burst of points in the fourth quarter.
The Miners culminated a 12 play, 81 yard drive during which sturdy running backs CJ Fensko (32 yards), Berry (14 yards), and Gill (20 yards for the touchdown) contributed significant runs through an obviously tiring defense. The drive, followed by a Berry PAT, took six precious minutes.
The visitors' good fortunes looked even better less than a minute later. On the second play from scrimmage, needing 13 yards for a first down, Hillsboro tried a pass; Collin Johnson, a defensive back, stepped in front of it on the Topper 35 and carried it to the end zone. The pic-six led to yet another Berry extra point.
The Miners' fun wasn't over. The first play from scrimmage after the kickoff resulted in another interception as Alex Ottersburg picked off a halfback pass lofted into the wind. Ottersburg landed at the Topper 40; the defense stiffened, but in a fourth and six situation, Barrett and Berry combined for a 34 yard scoring pass. Berry didn't have a chance to kick his fifth PAT as the snap hit the ground and the holder's pass fell incomplete.
The scoring wasn't over as Lipe was rewarded with points after he returned the kickoff 30 yards to his 44. The drive almost stalled there, but Tuetken completed a third down pass to Bates on the Miner 44. Tuetken then scrambled for 5, passed to Jude Bertolino for 1, and to Jonah Harkins for a first down at the 29.
On second down Harkins fought to the 17, but a holding call in the backfield threatened the drive. The ball was moved back to the 45, but Tuetken combined with Lipe for a 45 yard catch and run to put Hillsboro on the scoreboard. Only an uneventful 1:55 remained.
On the surface, hopes for the initial Topper win of the season aren't promising for this week when the Vandalia Vandals, 5-0 behind quarterback Matthew Wells and running back Thomas Ritchey, come for the Toppers' homecoming game. The Vandals downed Gillespie 49-12 in Week One.
September 27 at Hillsboro
Gillespie (3-2) 0 14 0 20 34
Hillsboro (0-5) 0 0 0 6 6
2nd: Gillespie - Frankie Barrett 8-yard pass to John Berry (John Berry kick)
2nd: Gillespie - Frankie Barrett 20-yard pass to Jake Carter (John Berry kick)
4th: Gillespie - Billy Gill 20-yard run (John Berry kick)
4th: Gillespie - Collin Johnson 35-yard interception return (John Berry kick)
4th: Gillespie - Frankie Barrett 36-yard pass to John Berry (pass failed)
4th: Hillsboro - Jace Tuetken 45-yard pass to Joey Lipe (pass failed)
Passing: Hillsboro - Jace Tuetken 5-18-70; Gillespie - Frankie Barrett 6-14-127.
Rushing: Hillsboro - Joey Lipe 20-138, Jonah Harkins 7-21, Jace Tuetken 6-13, Dom Bates 1-8; Gillespie - Frensko 13-111, Gill 12-77, Berry 12-54, Lewis 6-15, Barrett 1-5.
Receiving: Hillsboro - Joey Lipe 1-45, Dom Bates 2-19, Jonah Harkins 1-5, Jude Bertolino 1-1; Gillespie - Gill 1-45, Berry 2-44, Carter 1-20, Kravanya 2-18.
Defense (Solo/Assists): Andrew Law 11/2; Jackson Hamby 7/5; Magnus Wells 5/3; Jace Tuetken 5/1; Curtis Segrest 2/3; Joey Lipe 4/1; Jude Bertolino 4/1; Drew Willman 3/1; Jonah Harkins 3/1; Brett Cunningham 2/0; Dom Bates 0/2; Ben Taylor 2/0; Eli Tyszko 1/0.