By Russell Korando and Gordon Bess
Hillsboro beat visiting De Soto 36-15 in the first round of the Class 4 District 1 tournament on Oct. 20.
The Hawks (7-3) will host fourth-seeded Farmington (6-4) at 7 p.m. tonight (Oct. 27) in the district semifinals. The Knights beat Perryville 44-8 in their first-round district matchup. Farmington waxed Hillsboro 40-14 two years ago in the district semifinals. The Hawks lost to Cape Girardeau Central in last year’s district championship.
“They’re going to be well coached,” Hillsboro head coach Lee Freeman said of Friday’s opponent. “They’re a disciplined football team. They do some things similar to us. They’re going to play hard and be ready. The last time we saw them in districts they thumped us pretty good.”
The Hawks used plenty of running backs not named Micheal Keller against the Dragons. Keller returned a punt to the Dragon 20-yard line after De Soto quarterback Briar Fischer was tackled in the end zone for a safety on the second play of the game. Keller was uninjured and watched most of the first half from the sideline as running backs Adam Brody, Joe Garner, Joe Gregory, Luke Skaggs and Jeremy Hummel took turns on Freeman’s merry-go-round.
“We can’t always rely on Micheal and we were able to move the ball without him tonight,” Freeman said.
Gregory gave the Hawks an 8-0 lead after scoring a 6-yard touchdown with 9:05 left in the first quarter. Gregory scored again late in the first quarter to make the score 14-0.
“Joe Gregory is a No. 1 running back in this offense when we need him to be,” Freeman said. “He’d be the No. 1 running back on most teams. He’s a patient guy who waits his turn. He makes the most of his opportunities and that’s exactly what we have to have.”
After starting at midfield on its next possession, De Soto quickly answered. Senior running back JaDan Brown rushed for 48 yards to the Hillsboro 1, before finishing off the drive with a TD four seconds into the second quarter. Senior Mayson DeRousse kicked the extra point to cut the Hillsboro lead in half.
“When JaDan was in the lineup this year he gave all that his 145 pounds could give,” De Soto head coach Chris Johnson said.
The Dragons and Hawks traded turnovers on the next two series. First, Hillsboro quarterback Tyler Isaacson fumbled at the De Soto 27, but five plays later Fischer’s pass was tipped into the air by Hillsboro defensive lineman Ryan Larkin, who caught it when it came back down. Freeman said it’s been about 10 years since a Hillsboro defensive lineman intercepted a pass.
“I tipped it and I was trying to be athletic for once in my life and it just fell in my hands,” Larkin said. “We made some adjustments at halftime. We knew we had to be more physical.”
Fischer threw four interceptions. Johnson said Fischer’s picks were largely the result of not checking down to his secondary reads.
“When he watches the film, he’s going to be disappointed,” Johnson said. “We ask Briar to do a lot of things. We’re not asking him to hand the ball off and get out of the way. He’s got to read defenses and run. We throw a lot at him regardless of the fact he’s 15 years old.”
Two plays after Larkin’s interception, Isaacson fired a perfect 25-yard strike to senior Chase Green for a TD that put the Hawks up 22-7 with 6:42 left in the half.
A muffed punt return after the Hawks’ defense forced a three-and-out set De Soto up at the Hillsboro 11, and Brown did the rest, carrying the ball three times and ending up in the end zone with his second TD. Senior Logan Smith caught the two-point conversion from Fischer to make it 22-15 with 4:37 in the half.
The third quarter was scoreless, but the Dragons missed a golden opportunity to tie the game when they stopped the Hawks at their own 5 after a 16-play drive that chewed up the first eight minutes of the second half. Hillsboro helped De Soto move out of the shadow of its goal post to near midfield after being given a 15-yard personal foul penalty.
“I felt like if after that stop if we could have marched down and tied it up, we would have been in a great position to win this game,” Johnson said.
But Brody stepped in front of Fischer’s pass for another turnover. Keller made an appearance in the backfield, but it was the passing game that helped the Hawks pull away. Biting on Isaacson’s play-action fake, the Dragons left senior Josef Marschuetz wide open on a 25-yard TD pass 10 seconds into the fourth quarter. The Hawks led 28-15 and had some breathing room finally.
Skaggs capped the scoring with a 17-yard gallop. He led the Hawks with 109 yards on the ground. Keller (8 carries, 47 yards), Gregory (15-85) and Garner (17-69) helped pile up 332 team yards.