In a typical rivalry game that saw four lead changes, the Hillsboro Indians scored last and pulled out a 21-16 victory Friday over the McClain Tigers in Frontier Athletic Conference action at Richards Memorial Field.
It was the last regular season game for both teams in a season shortened by the COVID-19 pandemic. Hillsboro finished the regular season at 1-4 in the FAC and 1-6 overall, while McClain finished at 0-5 in the FAC and 0-6 overall.
“We still made a lot of mistakes but we were somehow able to overcame it, so it feels good,” Hillsboro coach Jack O’Rourke said on the field after the game. “It’s great to win and we want to keep getting better. We got a big game next weekend against Unioto, and we have to do better than that next weekend.”
Both Hillsboro and McClain will enter the Division IV football playoffs next week at 7 p.m. Saturday. Hillsboro travels to Unioto (4-2) while McClain will visit West Milton Milton-Union (4-2).
On Friday, McClain came from behind to take the lead twice in the game and appeared to have all the momentum after Braeden Bergstrom lined a 37-yard field goal through the uprights to give the Tigers a 16-14 lead with 20 seconds in the third quarter, then the Tigers recovered a Hillsboro fumble deep in their own end of the field on the first drive of the fourth quarter.
But a McClain mistake on Hillsboro’s next possession proved to be pivotal.
With just over six minutes to play the Indians faced a third down and 15 yards to go situation from the McClain 45 yard line. A Hillsboro pass attempt fell incomplete, meaning Hillsboro likely would have had to punt. But the Tigers were called for roughing the passer on the play and Hillsboro had new life.
On the very next play Hillsboro’s Bryce Parsons broke through the right side of his line and outran the McClain defense for a 31-yard score. Nick Turner’s extra point kick was good and Hillsboro led 21-16 with 6:09 left in the contest.
“That was one of our basic plays and we just busted it,” O’Rourke said. “They had been selling the blitz and when (Parsons) got by the line of scrimmage there was nobody left.”
On the ensuing kickoff the McClain return man slipped and fell when he caught the ball, putting the Tigers in a bit of a hole at their own 19 yard line. A 3-yard pass completion started the drive, but then a pass fell incomplete and on third down McClain Quarterback Braden Wright was dropped for a 5-yard loss by Hillsboro’s Derek Whitt and Parsons. The Tigers had to punt with 4:27 on the clock.
Hillsboro took over at midfield. After picking up one first down, the Indians were facing third and long after McClain called its last timeout with 2:04 left play. That’s when Hillsboro quarterback Christopher Stout faked a hand-off to the right, rolled around the left end of his line and rambled to the Tiger 8 yard line. From there the Indians were able to run out the clock.
Hillsboro opened the game with a 14-play drive that stalled at McClain’s 8 yard line. The Tigers ran three plays and had to punt, then Hillsboro took advantage of a short field, driving 40 yards in five plays. Parsons capped the drive with a 2-yard TD plunge. Turner’s kick was good and Hillsboro led 7-0 with 1:28 left in the first quarter.
Three possessions later McClain was finally able to light its side of the scoreboard. Five plays after they took over at their own 45 yard line, Braden Wright ran around the left end and raced 31 yards for a touchdown. Bergstrom’s kick was good and it was 7-7 with 3:19 left in the first half.
McClain scored again just 24 seconds later.
Hillsboro took possession at its own 35 yard line after McClain kicked the ball out of bounds. After three incomplete passes and an Indian penalty, McClain’s Cade Sponcil blocked a punt, picked up the ball and rolled 30 yards into the end zone. Bergstrom’s kick was blocked, but Tigers had a 13-7 lead with 2:55 left before the half.
The flurry of scoring at the end of the first half was not over.
A nice kickoff return by Travis Ross gave the Indians a first down at McClain’s 45 yard line. Five plays later Hillsboro receiver Canaan Griffith got behind the McClain defense, scrambling Hillsboro quarterback Christopher Stout saw him just in time, and Canaan hauled in a 32-yard TD reception that just cleared the fingers of a McClain defender. Turner’s kick was good and with 58 seconds left in the half it was 14-13 in favor of Hillsboro.
There was no more scoring until Bergstrom’s field goal with 20 seconds left in the third quarter.
Friday at Unioto, O’Rourke said Hillsboro will face a team that likes to stretch things out and throw the ball a little.
“We’ve got our work cut out for us and we’ll give it our best shot,” he said.
Reach Jeff Gilliland at 937-402-2522.