Hillsboro tries to block an extra-point attempt by Cape Girardeau Central during Friday night’s Class 4 District 1 championship.
Ted Howell photo
By Russell Korando
It’s a drive that won’t soon be forgotten in Hillsboro.
It was a drive that produced a district championship for the Hawks for the first time in five years. The drive in the fourth quarter spanned 80 yards in 14 plays and chewed 6:30 off the clock.
It ended when senior quarterback Tyler Isaacson scored on a two-yard run with 6:10 left against Cape Girardeau Central on Friday night in the Class 4 District 1 championship. The Tigers scored two touchdowns in the third quarter to tie the Hawks 28-28. But Isaacson’s game-winning touchdown ended Cape Central’s four-year reign as District 1 champions as the Hawks won 36-28.
“Our kids were focused and we got into a rhythm there and we stayed on our blocks and moved the ball,” Hillsboro head coach Lee Freeman said.
Hillsboro (9-3) hosts Ladue in the quarterfinals next Friday (Nov. 10) at 7 p.m. The Hawks ran the table at home in District 1, beating De Soto, Farmington and Cape Central. Ladue beat Mary Institute-Country Day School 52-21 on Friday.
After Isaacson scored, the Tigers had three more opportunities to tie the game. Running back Aaron Harris fumbled quarterback Cameron Cox’s pitch on the first play after Isaacson’s TD and Hillsboro senior defensive back Joe Gregory pounced on the ball at the Cape Central 26-yard line.
“It was a rush. I saw the ball go down and I had to go after it,” Gregory said.
Hillsboro couldn’t convert on fourth-and-9 on its next series and Cox quickly moved the Tigers across midfield with two runs for 27 yards and a 14-yard completion to senior receiver Austin Parker, who is 6-4 and gave the Hawks’ secondary fits on Cox’s jump balls. But senior defensive end Josef Marschuetz sacked Cox for a nine-yard loss and Cox threw two incompletions as the Tigers turned the ball over on downs with 2:06 to play.
After a punt attempt went awry earlier in the second half, Freeman decided not to punt on his side of the 50 on fourth-and-7. Isaacson played it safe and ran toward the sideline just trying to protect the ball.
Cape Central had one more chance. Cox fired two incompletions, setting up third-and-10. Marschuetz enveloped him for the third time in the game and Cox fired incomplete on fourth down. The large crowd clad in blue let out a hardy cheer and rushed the field to celebrate the district title.
“We’ve got of alumni here tonight, some who I played with here,” Freeman said. “We call them the ghosts and they come out every once in awhile and we want to put a good product on the field when they do.”
The Tigers began the game with an impressive 14-play drive that reached the Hillsboro 6. But on fourth-and-6, Cox slipped and fell for a two-yard loss and the scoring threat came to an end.
Then the Hawks’ senior backfield took over. Joe Garner, Micheal Keller and Luke Skaggs are all first team running backs in the Mississippi Area Football Conference Red Division this year. Keller had the most rushing yards and touchdowns on the Hawks going into the game, but he’s played second fiddle to Garner and Skaggs since the district tournament began.
With Garner grinding out first downs four and five yards at a time, Keller had the two longest runs on the opening drive that ended with Garner bursting through a hole for a 22-yard TD run with 1:53 left in the first quarter. Garner ran in the two-point conversion to make it 8-0.
Marschuetz recovered a fumble on the Tigers’ next drive at the Cape Central 23 and the Hawks cashed in the turnover for six points when Skaggs broke free on a misdirection off right tackle for a 13-yard touchdown run with 11:18 left in the first half.
Cape Central got on the board after a Hillsboro turnover at its own 25. Gregory sacked Cox on the first play of the series, but Cox hit Joseph Baker with a 14-yard pass and Harris scored from two yards with 6:45 left in the second. The PAT failed and the Hawks led 14-6.
Gregory returned the ensuing kickoff to the Cape Central 37 and the Hawks went right back to work. Skaggs gained 12 yards on third-and-10, and he and Garner kept pounding away until Garner scored from a yard out. Isaacson’s pass on the conversion was intercepted and the Hawks led 20-6 with 2:07 left in the half.
Garner has scored six touchdowns in the last two games.
The two teams traded touchdowns in the final 1:08 of the half when Baker caught a 24-yard TD pass from Cox and Keller took Isaacson’s short pass 65 yards for a score to make it 28-14 at halftime.
Midway through the third, Baker caught a bubble screen from Cox and gained 22 yards on the heels of Parker’s 35-yard catch and run. Baker scored on a 1-yard run and Hunter Heitt kicked the extra point to cut Hillsboro’s lead to 28-21.
Baker caught a jump ball at the goal line for a 43-yard TD with 40 seconds left in the third and the game was tied 28-28 going into the fourth.
“We slowed down a little but we got the momentum back. That’s all it was,” Marschuetz said.
Hillsboro 36, Cape Girardeau Central 28
Cape Central 0 14 14 0 – 28
Hillsboro 8 20 0 8 – 36