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Tigers explode in fourth quarter
Football team clinches 13th consecutive playoff berth
tommy crandall open field
Hillsboro halfback Tommy Crandall (33) runs toward the end zone with a lone Wonewoc-Center defender in pursuit Oct. 17 during the Tigers 45-17 win over the host Wolves. - photo by Angie Nachtigal photo

WONEWOC — Junior halfback Tommy Crandall rushed for 202 yards and three second-half touchdowns to lead Hillsboro to a wild 47–27 come-from-behind victory in Friday’s regular season final at Wonewoc–Center.

Hillsboro (6–3, 4–3 SBC) clinched its 13th consecutive playoff berth with the win and will host sixth-seeded North Crawford (6–3) in a WIAA Division 7 first-round game Friday night at 7 p.m.

“We are all very excited to solidify a 13th consecutive year in the playoffs and have new life,” said Hillsboro head coach Eric Auel. “After a stretch of three consecutive losses, we are healthy and gaining momentum with three consecutive wins.

“We played somewhat sloppy on Friday night on both sides of the ball. That won’t cut it in the playoffs. Despite moving the ball throughout the entire game last Friday, we turned the ball over four times on sloppy play. I was happy with the way the kids bounced back in the face of adversity and took control of the game.”

Needing a win to qualify for the postseason, Hillsboro got off to a horrible start, hurting its own cause with four turnovers, and trailed 21–8 at halftime before outscoring the one-win Wolves 39–6 in the second half.

Wonewoc–Center’s Casey Krueger scored a pair of first half touchdowns, his second early in the second quarter, as the Wolves (1–8, 1–6) jumped out to a 15–0 lead.

Hillsboro got on the board with 36 seconds left in the half on a 27-yard pass from Matt Stekel to Ethan Thornson and appeared to have the momentum going into halftime.

But Wonewoc–Center returned the ensuing kickoff 83 yards to take a 21–7 lead into the locker room.

Crandall began the Hillsboro comeback scoring the first of his three touchdowns at the 7:43 mark of the third quarter and Matt Stekel’s two-point conversion made it 21–16.

Crandall’s twin brother Tyler Crandall scored from 37 yards out on the first play of the fourth quarter and Tommy added the conversion run to give the Tigers a 24–21 lead.

The lead was short-lived as Wonewoc’s Thomas Jefferson-Ang broke loose for a 67 yard run one the first play of the next drive as the Wolves regained the lead at 27–24, their last lead of the game.

Tommy Crandall scored from 17 yards out a minute later as Hillsboro regained the lead, then added a 51-yard TD run midway through the fourth quarter. His two-point conversion made it 40–27.

Hillsboro senior fullback Warren Paulson added the knockout punch, a 48-yard touchdown run with 49 seconds left and Stekel’s PAT accounted for the final score.

Paulson finished the night with 176 yards rushing on 21 carries. Tyler Crandall added 88 on nine attempts.

As a team, Hillsboro piled up 538 yards of total offense, including 460 yards rushing.

Stekel completed 5 of 8 passes for 80 yards, one touchdown and one interception.

“We are not generally bigger and stronger than our opponents up front but we were on Friday,” said Auel. “As the game continued, I believe we wore them out and were able to take advantage of their desire to take away the middle. I’m excited about the playoffs and feel that if we play our best football, which hasn’t happened yet, we have the potential to upset some folks around the state.”