For the second week in a row Hillsboro lacked emotion and a sense of urgency in the first half.
Head coach Eric Auel desperately hopes this will not be a common theme throughout the season.
Auel’s sloppy Tigers seemingly sleep walked through the first quarter and quickly fell behind 16–0.
But a key interception and 50-yard return by senior Brandon Stanek woke up a sluggish Hillsboro squad.
Stanek’s pick and return set the stage for a Max Sebranek 3-yard touchdown, the first of four unanswered touchdowns in Hillsboro 27–16 comeback victory over visiting Kickapoo/La Farge Friday night.
“One of the keys to the game was emotion, or our lack of it,” said Auel. “We came out flat and it cost us, but when we figured out we needed to be more aggressive and more emotional the complexion of the game completely changed.”
Behind 250-pound sophomore fullback Ben Jacobs, the Predators took the opening kickoff and drove deep into Hillsboro territory before stalling on downs.
Hillsboro (2–0) went three-and-out and a shanked 10-yard punt returned the ball to Kickapoo deep in Tiger territory.
The Predators (0–2) took advantage of the short field, and a few plays later Jacobs plowed in from a yard out. Zane Parker’s conversion run made it 8–0.
The Tigers fumbled at their own 12-yard line on their very next play from scrimmage.
Kickapoo/La Farge was opportunistic once again, capping the short TD drive with a Parker 2-yard run. Ethan Wise’s conversion pass to Carver Phillips made it 16–0.
Hillsboro fumble again on its next drive, and the visitors went for the kill.
But Stanek turned the momentum of the game when he picked off a poor halfback option pass and returned it deep in Kickapoo/La Farge territory.
Two plays later, Sebranek scored and after Matt Bartels’ conversion run Hillsboro was within eight points.
“Brandon’s interception completely changed the momentum of the game,” said Auel. “That really got us going.”
The Tigers scored again on their next drive on a four-yard pass from senior quarterback Grant Jefferies to Sebranek. The conversion run failed and Hillsboro still trailed, 16–14.
But with just over three minutes left in the half, senior Brock Borchardt stripped a stacked-up Jacobs and junior linebacker Matt Stekel scooped up the loose ball and raced 30 yards for the score and a 20–16 Hillsboro lead.
The Tigers blocked a Kickapoo punt and drove to the Predator 10 late in the first half, but Jefferies threw an interception in the end zone with 10 seconds left in the second quarter.
After a scoreless third quarter, Hillsboro put the game away with a 38-yard Jefferies run early in the fourth quarter.
Swedish exchange student Moa Jillefors kick the extra point to provide the final margin of victory.
Jillefors is a 17-year-old junior who is living with Hillsboro junior high assistant football coach Pete Benish. She is a soccer player at home and was interested in learning American football, so she joined the team and will serve as the team’s place kicker the rest of the season.
Hillsboro finished the game with over 250 yards of offense, but committed six turnovers (four fumbles, two interceptions).
“We played very sloppy,” said Auel. “We fumbled a lot and lost most of them. We also threw two interceptions so we definitely have some work to do on taking care of the ball. But I was happy with the resiliency the guys showed in being able to overcome mistakes and comeback to get the win.”
Hillsboro will look to continue its winning streak Friday at home against Royall (1–1). The Panthers are coming off a 35–7 victory over Alma Center-Lincoln.