With their backs to the wall playing the defending SBC champion New Lisbon, the Hillsboro Tigers turned in a must-win performance Friday night.
Senior fullback Warren Paulson rushed for 105 yards and a pair of fourth quarter touchdowns and junior Tyler Crandall returned an interception for a score late in the fourth quarter to put the final nail in a 30–18 victory over the visiting Rockets.
“While we made some mistakes and have room for improvement, the win was big last Friday for the guys,” said Hillsboro head coach Eric Auel. “It keeps their hopes alive for the playoffs and the desire to keep the playoff streak going is important to them. The win facilitates their confidence for the final stretch and they are eager to compete.”
With the win Hillsboro improved to 4–3 overall and 2–3 in the conference. The Tigers must win their final two games to be considered playoff eligible, though Hillsboro did get in the postseason with a 3–4 conference mark a near ago — a feat not likely to happen two years in a row.
Hillsboro will host Brookwood (1–6, 1–4 SBC) Friday before closing out the regular season Oct. 17 at Wonewoc–Center (1–6, 1–4).
“Obviously, championship teams are able to face adversity and bounce back from it,” said of Hillsboro's recent three-game losing streak that was snapped with Friday’s win over New Lisbon. “With issues regarding depth and varsity experience, the season has been full of adversity, especially up front. We came into Friday’s game a bit healthier and were able to rotate a few more kids into the game and get them just a bit more experience.
“I thought the guys played well at times; however, we are still looking to put together our best game and a complete four quarters of good football from the offensive, defensive, and special teams collective whole.”
Junior halfback Tommy Crandall opened the scoring with a 57-yard run on Hillsboro's first possession of the game to give the Tigers a 6–0 lead.
Early in the second quarter senior quarterback Matt Stekel tossed a 15-yard pass to Max Stockwell to make it 12–0.
New Lisbon got on the board with five minutes left in the first half on a Joe Cook 3-yard run.
The Rockets tied the game late in the third quarter on Marshal Toelle’s 2-yard run. A two-point conversion pass failed and the score remained 12–12.
Hillsboro answered with a scoring drive of its own capped by a 7-yard run by Paulson. The conversion run failed, but the Tigers lead 18–12 and would never trail again.
On its next possession Hillsboro turned a short field into a 42-yard TD run by Paulson and a 24–12 lead.
The Tigers stopped a potential New Lisbon scoring drive when Tyler Crandall picked off a Zach Martin pass at the Tigers’ 5-yard line and returned 95 yards for an insurmountable 30–12 lead with less than 10 minutes left in the game.
New Lisbon tacked on a late 2-yard TD run by Toelle to account for the final score.
Tyler Crandall also had a breakaway run in the final minute of the fourth quarter that could have been a 45-yard TD run, but he unselfishly laid down at the 25-yard line without a defender in sight to run out the clock.
“We did a better job minimizing mistakes in the red zone and were able capitalize on the mistakes of our opponents by adding points to the board,” said Auel “In addition, I thought our defensive unit did a good job of preventing big plays while making it difficult for an experienced offensive line to move the ball consistently on the ground.”