Costly penalties, missed opportunities and three crucial turnovers added up to a frustrating 12–10 loss for Hillsboro Friday night at Cashton.
Three Tigers’ drives stalled in the Eagles’ red zone, and Hillsboro also had a go-ahead kick return touchdown called back for a block in the back.
“This was a tough loss,” said head coach Eric Auel. “Even though we had some struggles running the ball, we threw the ball decently and played good defense. But it’s tough to win a game when you give the opponent the ball twice in the red zone. Cashton was opportunistic and did enough to stay in the game. It’s hard to take a loss like this, however, it’s part of the game and we need to move on from the adversity and get ready for next week.”
With the win Cashton improved to 4–2 overall and remains unbeaten in the Scenic Bluffs at 4–0.
Meanwhile, Auel’s Tigers fell to 3–3 overall and 1–3 in conference play. Now Hillsboro must win its final three regular season games starting with Friday’s home game with New Libson (4–2, 2–2) to become playoff eligible. Certainly challenging, but not impossible considered the Tigers’ final two opponents are struggling Brookwood (1–5, 1–3) on Oct. 10 and at Wonewoc–Center (1–5, 1–3) on Oct. 17.
“We don’t like the situation of having to win out,” said Auel. “However, I feel it’s very do-able. We have yet to put together our best game of football and this is the perfect week to do it. I feel it’s the time for us to step up and show what we can do on both sides of the ball.”
Cashton took a 6–0 lead early in the second quarter on a four-yard run by Jeffry Janzen and the score remained that way until the final minutes of the third quarter.
Hillsboro took the lead at 8–6 with 2:17 left in the third quarter when Tommy Crandall scored on a 1-yard run, and Matt Stekel completed the two-point conversion pass to Joey Helgerson.
But the Tigers’ slim lead wouldn’t last.
Cashton answered with a scoring drive of its own and took a 12–8 lead when Noah Flock tossed a 17-yard touchdown pass to Jaden Schmitz with 9:11 left to play in the game. The conversion pass failed and the score remained 12–8.
Hillsboro was driving for the potential go-ahead score, but Drew Pieper intercepted a Stekel pass at the 1-yard line.
The Tigers held, and rather than punt from its own end zone, Cashton elected to take a safety to make the score 12–10 with just 4:49 remaining.
Stekel returned the ensuing free kick for what looked like a dramatic game-winning touchdown, but the play was wiped out for a block in the back penalty away from the play.
Down, but not out, the Tigers’ offense went to work.
Stekel completed a 32-yard pass to Max Stockwell.
Fullback Warren Paulson then gained four yards on a run up the middle, and Tommy Crandall picked up three yards.
On 3rd-and-3 the Tigers were called for illegal procedure. On the 3rd-and-8 Hillsboro fumbled the snap and had to fall on it. A fourth-and-long pass fell incomplete and Cashton took over on downs with 2:35 remaining and ran out the clock.
Playing without starting left tackle Sebastian Miller, who was injured in last week’s loss to Bangor, Hillsboro struggled to sustain any consistency on offense.
Cashton held the Tigers to just 117 yards rushing on 36 carries. Paulson led Hillsboro with 58 yards on 13 carries.
Stekel finished the game 7 of 18 passing for 109 yards with one interception.
Hillsboro will face New Lisbon Friday at 7 p.m.