Versatility and diversity were keys in the Hillsboro High School football team’s 28-6 win over Sterling on Friday in Hillsboro.
Both were in evidence on defense. The Trojans held Sterling to 208 yards of offense, 161 on the ground. Sterling quarterback Riley Galyon had 117 yards on his own, but accumulated most of those yards on misdirection plays. Hillsboro played the Black Bears motion-sweep option play much more effectively from the second quarter on.
HHS head coach Lance Sawyer pointed out that Sterling only had one series in the first half where they crossed midfield. In that drive they were aided by 30 yards of penalties, consecutive face mask calls. They ended the series with their only touchdown of the game, an Austin Maxwell run straight up the middle.
Other than that drive, the Trojans were dominant all game long. Eleven players recorded tackles in the contest. Tanner Jones and Evan Ollenburger led the way with four unassisted tackles.
“I was impressed with our defense,” Sawyer said. “Coach (Scott) O’Hare has done a great job.”
This season Hillsboro is playing a more aggressive brand of 4-3 defense bent on using the Trojans’ speed to disrupt plays in the backfield. This strategy backfired in the first quarter with Sterling’s misdirection-based run attack. However, Hillsboro tacklers practiced patience from that point on. Defensive end Cody Delk and defensive back Evan Ollenburger exemplified this by taking on blocks and allowing linebackers like Jones and Tyrell Thiessen to make plays on ball carriers.
In the first two games of the season, Delk has stood out to Sawyer. The junior added strength in the offseason. He was virtually unblockable on Friday. Sawyer said he was in the backfield on nearly every play.
A crucial defensive stand for the Trojans was a fourth-and-7 tackle by Nathan Unruh on a Sterling run up the middle. Hillsboro worked up the gridiron with the favorable field position and scored on a 24-yard connection from quarterback Tyler Proffitt to Evan Ollenburger on fourth-and-8. The touchdown gave Hillsboro a 20-0 lead.
Ollenburger was the most versatile Trojan on Friday. Along with the touchdown catch, he was Proffitt’s primary target on screens. He also received multiple carries on sweeps.
On defense Ollenburger played up to the line — even though he played corner against Lyons — with Hillsboro playing a 4-4 defense specially implemented to stall Sterling’s running game. Ollenburger recorded four tackles, including two for losses.
Dropping back into coverage in an obvious passing situation, third-and-15, Ollenburger recorded the only turnover for Hillsboro with an interception in the fourth quarter.
“I do what I can,” Ollenburger said.
Ollenburger was just one of many Trojans who made a variety of contributions. Hillsboro’s most important offensive play of the game provides an example.
The Trojans were backed up against their goal line midway through the first quarter. On second-and-23, Proffitt faked a handoff to Tyrell Thiessen and sprinted toward the right sideline. Proffitt emerged from the congestion at the line of scrimmage and found the corner. A block by wide receiver Shaq Thiessen sprung Proffitt for a 91-yard touchdown run.
“That was the team concept at work,” Sawyer said.
For the second game in a row, Shaq Thiessen was the leading receiver for Hillsboro with 89 yards. He also had one long touchdown of 57 yards. He beat Sterling corner Kirk England in man coverage. With less than a yard of separation, Proffitt released the ball and Shaq Thiessen ran under the pass in stride and went the rest of the way untouched into the end zone.
However, England’s coverage most of the night was stifling and Shaq Thiessen did most of his receiving work on short hook routes with a defender bearing down on him.
But Shaq Thiessen’s most important contribution occurred on a punt. After Sterling scored, the Black Bears forced the Trojans into fourth-and-27 near the Hillsboro goal line. Sterling was threatening to make the game close with 1:11 left in the first half and potential favorable field position. Shaq Thiessen had other ideas. He boomed a punt over the Sterling returner’s head. The ball bounced to the Sterling 5-yard line and Preston Nelson made a tackle at the Sterling 3.
Proffitt was another skill-position player involved in the kicking game, executing a quick kick to put Sterling at its 10-yard line in the fourth quarter.
At his normal role at quarterback, Ollenburger and Sawyer agreed that Proffitt was even better in game two than his five-touchdown outing against Lyons. Proffitt went 14-for-22 with three touchdowns on 261 yards passing.
A majority of those 14 completions were on much tougher throws. The touchdown pass to Shaq Thiessen showed considerable finesse; the touchdown pass to Ollenburger would have been an incompletion or interception had the ball been delivered without the right combination of touch and strength.
With Sterling playing close to the line, Hillsboro ran a play with Shaq Thiessen and Ollenburger on the same side of the field. Shaq Thiessen ran a slant and Ollenburger ran a wheel route from his inside position past Shaq Thiessen. The combination acted as a pick to give Ollenburger just a smidge of separation. The Sterling defender was still in tight pursuit when Proffitt unleashed the pass to the near corner of the end zone. Although Ollenburger had to leap, he handled the over-the-shoulder catch easily and walked into the end zone.
The more impressive throw to Sawyer was a second-down play in the third quarter. Tyrell Thiessen ran a go-route up the middle of the field. Proffitt fit the ball in between a linebacker and safety and hit his fullback in stride for a 33-yard gain.
“Tyler Proffitt showed me he can play quarterback,” Sawyer said. “He’s going to be a good athlete for us.”
Less impressive but equally important were Proffitt’s underneath throws, a recent improvement Ollenburger said. Hillsboro’s fourth touchdown of the night was a dump off throw to Tyrell Thiessen in the flat. The leading throw allowed the fullback to gain enough momentum to carry two would-be tacklers five yards into the end zone.
Hillsboro then completed a fake field goal. Jesse Brown rolled out right and hit Shaq Thiessen with a wide open pass to make the score 28-6.
The faux field goal was just one unique wrinkle in the Trojan playbook employed on Friday. The Trojans also have a penchant for running several plays a game with four wide receivers on one side of the field.
“The thing with that is it something they don’t usually see,” Sawyer said. “They have to take practice time to prepare for it.”
The versatility the Trojans showed Friday may have opposing coaches spending even more time game planning in practice.