More Gun, Less Run For Toppers In 2021

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Somewhere the spirits of Vince Lombardi and George Halas are shuddering when they consider what’s happened to the grand old game of smash-mouth football which they championed in the sport’s formative years. 

Only 20 years ago successful teams on the college and high school levels believed in lining up behind big men with the intent of running over and/or through the opposing big men. The team that could create “... a cloud of dust and a three yard gain” with the most consistency would win.

The professionals were the first to throw more than to run; eventually colleges went to spread formation offenses; now high school teams often run just to set up their passing games. To old-timers that seems backwards, but it is the way of the football world now, as exemplified by the South Central Conference teams in the 2021 spring season. Hillsboro, once the home of the pound and grind Power I and double-tight end formations, seldom if ever had the quarterback under center this spring and threw the ball 128 times in six games; that’s an average of over 20 passes per game.

The leading scorer was senior wide receiver Jace Tuetken, who hauled in 29 catches for six touchdowns.

Sophomore quarterback Zane Duff gained 699 yards through the air; the leading rusher, both in terms of yards gained (325) and touchdowns scored (4), was sophomore Blaze Helton. His four touchdowns were the only rushing touchdowns the Toppers had. Place kicker Chase Murray was successful six of the seven times he lined up to boot the ball; that’s 88% of the time. There were no field goal attempts.

Traditionally, defensively the front four are told to occupy the opposing team’s offensive linemen so the linebackers can make tackles. The linebackers this season did a creditable job; middle linebacker Jackson Hamby had 33 tackles, Helton had 32, and Drew Willman had 30. (Sophomore Madison Scott improved from game to game - he had one tackle and one assist in the opener against Roxana; in the last game at Piasa he had nine solos).

However, it was junior down lineman Magnus Wells who recorded the most solo tackles in the season (36) and the highest total tackle honor; his 16 assists gave him 52. He was a force on the line. Hamby’s two fumble recoveries were the most as the Toppers totaled 8. They also had four interceptions.

Willman had the most kickoff returns with 13 for 161 yards; Tuetken had the only punt return as opponents only punted 10 times; one team (Piasa) didn’t punt at all, and three others each punted only once.

Record-wise, the season was not their best. Two games were winnable, perhaps – the 17-14 loss in Roxana in the first game and the 25-20 loss in Piasa in the last game. The middle four contests were mismatches (Pana had too much speed for the Toppers to corral; Breese Mater Dei had more size, experience, and speed; Carlinville was deep and huge; and Greenville had a power runner who could beat defenders to the edges).

Perhaps an impartial observer could have seen the winless season coming. The schedule, set by draw rather than including all conference teams, did Hillsboro no favors. Inexperience and the mistakes caused by it is hard to overcome; thirty years ago one had to be very talented and physically strong to see action on the football field as a sophomore. The coaching staff had two weeks of practice to install a new offensive philosophy. That’s a formidable task.

Now the challenge is to pull the threads together for next season. Topper Pride still exists; each of the graduating seniors (Tuetken, Bertolino, Murray, Willman, Huber, and Willie) have done their part to keep that tradition alive.

The fan base appreciates the efforts and the never-give-up attitude of the entire team.

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