The Hillsboro Hawks were absolutely soaring this season, dominating their opponents week in and week out for seven straight games, but that script was flipped in Week 8. Hosting a battle of unbeatens, the Hawks committed a few costly turnovers and left the door open for the Cardinal Ritter Lions to pounce. The number one State-ranked Class 3 Lions managed to take advantage and bested the number six State-ranked Class 4 Hawks, 26-13, ending Hillsboro’s perfect season.
The Hawks started off the game as they usually do, with their bruising rushing attack, but after the opening drive stalled, disaster struck. A blocked punt set Ritter up at the Hillsboro eight yard line, and the Lions wasted no time with a 13-yard passing touchdown just two plays later to go up 6-0.
The offense for both sides would stall after that until the eight minute mark of the second quarter where the Hawks used an 80-yard drive to march down the field and tie the game at six. The dagger at the end of the march was, of course, Jaxin Patterson, punching it in from two yards out. That made it a new game, as both teams remained scoreless to close out the half.
The second half did not start off well for the Hawks though. On the opening drive, the Lions used a breakaway 54-yard run into the endzone to go up 12-6. The Hawks tried to respond on the ensuing possession, but a costly fumble in the redzone ended their drive that could have tied the game or given them the lead.
They showed some resilience though, stopping the Lions on the following possession that began inside Hillsboro’s 30 yard line, and ended with a pick by Hunter Rhodes. That interception would spark the Hawks and propel them to a 73-yard drive that Payton Brown capped off with a three-yard rushing score. That made the score 13-12 Hawks, as they converted the first extra point of the game thus far.
That may have woken a sleeping giant though, as Cardinal Ritter fired right back with a 23-yard passing touchdown that put the Lions back on top. The two-point try was good as well, so a 13-12 lead quickly turned into a 20-13 deficit. Ritter, with all the momentum after a bad Hillsboro snap killed the drive for their chance to answer, marched down the field and culminated the drive with an 11-yard TD to seal the deal.
The Hawks had this one in their grasp, but some hard-luck plays and costly turnovers led to their first loss of the season. Despite out-gaining the Lions 337-243 in total yards and out-rushing them 296-82, the mistakes were just too costly to keep their unbeaten streak alive.
Head Coach Bill Sucharski commented on the game, saying, “We played a pretty good game minus our two turnovers inside Ritter territory when we were going in to score. I really felt like we let them off the hook, but that is the game of football. Proud of our kids, love their effort… just have to finish next time.”
The two headed-monster of Patterson and Brown was as efficient as ever in this one though. The two combined for 254 yards on the ground between them, with Brown leading the way with 139. They each were responsible for the only two Hillsboro scoring plays. Austin Romaine led the defense with six total tackles, but wasn’t involved on the offensive side of the ball in this one after missing the last two games.
The Hawks are going to have to just have a closer’s mentality after this one. Time to forget about it and focus on the next challenge, which will be hosting the Poplar Bluff Mules to slam the door on the regular season.
Then the real fun begins for the top seed in Class 4, as the playoffs will get underway.