The Hillsboro football team and coaching staff probably felt as if they were drowning Friday night, Aug. 30, when they lost their season opener to a much-improved-from-last-year Piasa Southwestern team on Hillsboro's Sawyer Field.
Literally they were rained upon during much of the contest (a lightning strike delayed the start of the second half until 8:51); figuratively rain fell because the Birds took advantage of the only Hillsboro turnover to stop one drive and caught the Topper defense by surprise twice -- the second time for a 65 yard touchdown pass that lifted them to an 18-14 victory.
Both teams run a read-option offense (the quarterback is at least six yards behind the center with a back next to him; as he receives the snap, he checks the defenders to determine whether he keeps the ball or hands it to the back; he can also pass from the formation, but it's primarily a running formation.)
On the winning touchdown, Bird quarterback Sam Wolff faked a run to draw the defense up and then threw from his 35 to a wide open Adam Bates.
The pursuit was on, but Bates, with a 20 yard head start, dashed to the end zone. 5:10 remained in the game when the Birds reclaimed the lead. Wolff, also an effective linebacker, rushed for 54 yards and passed for 113 in the contest.
Another Bird touchdown was set up by a long run as the second half began; the Toppers, leading 8-6, were three downs and punt as play resumed. Jace Tuetken's punt (from his 44) rolled to the Bird 23, a seemingly safe distance from the Topper goal. Any sense of security the defense felt dissipated quickly, though, as sophomore Blake Funk escaped around his left end.
With Joey Lipe in full chase mode, Funk reached the Topper 5 before Drew Law angled to catch him. One play later Wolff scored, and the Birds were up 12-8. Funk's 72 yard run boosted his rushing total to a team-high 91.
The first touchdown of the game was also Piasa's. Gavin Day, another sophomore, culminated a 12 play, 45 yard drive that began when Wolff stopped a Topper runner after a one yard gain in a fourth-and-two situation. The drive almost stalled twice, once when a holding call created a second-and-13 predicament on Hillsboro's 36, but a Wolff to Pauly Garrett pass picked up those 13 yards. Day scored with 4:43 left in the first quarter.
That score seemed to inspire the Toppers who built an 8-6 lead by the 2:00 mark. As quarterback, Tuetken proved to be an elusive runner. He gained 39 yards with three consecutive carries, moving from his 38 to the Bird 23. Lipe (10 yards) and Jonah Harkins, the Toppers' second leading rusher with 129 yards on 25 carries (Tuetken gained 146 on 20 carries) drove to the 3. Tuetken scored from the 3, then ran for the extra points that kept Hillsboro ahead till Funk's run.
The Topper offensive responded again after Piasa scored to begin the second half but the defense had to stop two sustained Bird threats in the second quarter. After Hillsboro lost the ball on downs on Piasa's 25, a Wolff (he threw for 113 yards during the game, though Tuetken had two interceptions in the first half) to Garrett pass was good for 48 yards. Two plays later Day was tackled at the Topper 23. A horse-collar tackle of Wolff drew a penalty that gave the visitors a first down at the 10, but a tackle and a pass break up by Law slowed the drive before Harkins and Lipe tackled Day on the Topper 4 on fourth down.
Tuetken punted to the enemy 40 three plays later; a holding call against Hillsboro was instrumental in the series before the punt as it wiped out a 12 yard gain on first down. Tuetken's second interception effectively ended the first half.
After Piasa regained the lead, an understandable but unfortunate turnover (the only one of the game) stopped Hillsboro's momentum as a fumble was recovered on the Bird 20. Harkins (8 yards) and an encroachment penalty had Hillsboro on the Bird 35 when Tuetken was tackled by his face mask; the penalty moved the ball to the Bird 23 but Tuetken had to have medical attention on the field after the illegal tackle.
That meant he had to leave the game for a play, and that play became a fumbled exchange between his replacement and a halfback. The Birds recovered on their 20. After one first down, the Birds had to punt. Though the wet ball squirted from the receiver's grasp, it landed out-of-bounds at the Topper 36.
Another holding call (Hillsboro had three) threatened the drive, giving the Toppers a first and 24, but Harkins gained 22 via an off-tackle burst before Tuetken gained six. That began the drive that ended seven plays later when Harkins dove into the end zone two plays into the last quarter. The extra points' run failed.
Hillsboro had a two point lead to defend for 11 minutes, 35 seconds. They did so for 6 minutes and 25 seconds till Bates ran free behind the secondary.
The game ended as the Birds had the ball on the Topper 6 with 150 seconds to play, but Hillsboro had no time outs left, so Wolff kneeled three times to seal their victory. For Hillsboro fans, the gloom cast by the loss was more pervasive than that caused by the rain.
The Toppers travel to Staunton, also 0-1, in hopes of evening their record next Friday, Sept. 6; kickoff is 7 p.m.
August 30 at Hillsboro
Southwestern 6 0 6 6 18
Hillsboro 8 0 0 6 14
1st: Southwestern - Gavin Day 18-yard run (2-pt. failed)
1st: Hillsboro - Jace Tuetken 3-yard run (Tuetken run)
3rd: Southwestern - Sam Wolff 5-yard run (2-pt. failed)
4th: Hillsboro - Jonah Harkins 6-yard run (2-pt. failed)
4th: Southwestern - Adam Bates 65-yard pass from Sam Wolff (2-pt. failed).
Passing: Hillsboro - Jace Tuetken 3-7-6; Southwestern - Sam Wolff 5-9-113.
Rushing: Hillsboro - Jace Tuetken 20-146, Jonah Harkins 25-129, Joey Lipe 2-11, Ben Taylor 1-1, Jude Bertolino 1-(-2); Southwestern - Funk 13-91, Wolff 20-54, Day 5-49.
Receiving: Hillsboro - Jonah Harkins 2-6, Jude Bertolino 1-0; Southwestern - Garrett 3-41, Bates 1-65, Day 1-6.
Defense (Solo/Assists): Hillsboro - Jonah Harkins 9/2; Andrew Law 6/0; Jackson Hamby 3/3; Brett Cunningham 4/2; Zinnen Kenney 2/1, 2 sacks; Drew Willman 3/2; Dylan McCammack 2/3; Joey Lipe 4/0; Magnus Wells 2/2; Aiden Scroggins 2/1; Dom Bates 1/1; Jace Tuetken 2/0; Jude Bertolino 2/0; Curtis Segrest 1/1; Ben Taylor 1/0.
Records: Southwestern (1-0); Hillsboro (0-1).