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Central football team loses handle on lead, season in final minute of district title game
Hillsboro scored in the final minute to claim the Class 4 District title with a 28-20 win
HILLSBORO, Mo. -- Central got a little taste of its own medicine Monday night, and all the sugar in the world couldn't have made it any easier to swallow.
Hillsboro's Brennan Martin caught an 11-yard touchdown pass with 23.2 seconds remaining for the go-ahead score in the Hawks' 28-20 victory over the visiting Tigers in the Class 4, Division 1 championship game.
Just last week the Tigers (5-7) scored in the final minute to upset top-seeded Sikeston on the Bulldogs' home turf. This time, the Tigers could not duplicate those late-game heroics.
"We came in here and preached that they're going to try and run the ball down our throats," Central coach Nathan Norman said. "They're going to run, run, and then they're going to run a play-action pass, and that's exactly what they did."
That play-action didn't just hurt the Tigers at the end, it hurt them early on. Central used a pair of first-quarter field goal to take a 6-0 lead after one quarter, but the Hawks (10-2) failed to flinch. After gaining just 37 yards through the first 20 minutes of the game, the Hawks used some big plays to get back into the game.
Starting on its own 20 after a missed field goal by Central with 3 minutes, 24 seconds left in the first half, Hillsboro quarterback Justin Horn found his tight end, Garrett Anderson, open across the middle for a 25-yard gain to near midfield.
Following a penalty, Horn hit Jacob Kelum across the middle, and Kelum took it 63 yards down the sideline to the Central 2. From there, Chris Walsh bulled over for the go-ahead score.
"Obviously we wanted to run the ball better tonight," Hillsboro coach Brian Robbins said. "We were able to hit some clutch passes through the air and get the ball to [Kelum and Martin] and they were able to do things with it."
Horn completed 9 of 14 passes for 210 yards and one touchdown. Kelum's three catches were good for 126 yards.
The teams see-sawed back and forth with the Hawks answering every Tiger comeback. Central took the second-half kickoff and, with senior Jacob Campbell doing all the work, scored in just five plays, Campbell scoring from 29 yards out for a 13-7 Tigers lead at the 9:41 mark.
"My motive was to keep winning," Campbell, who led both teams with 218 yards rushing on 37 carries. "I didn't want to go home."
Hillsboro came right back with a 5-play, 70-yard drive, Nick Baumgartner going the final 26 yards on a nice inside trap play to put the Hawks up 14-13 with 7:54 left in the third quarter.
Central answered with a 12-play, 60-yard drive, converting a pair of fourth downs along the way. Quarterback Dennis Vinson snuck over from the 1-yard line to give the Tigers a 20-14 lead at 2:06 of the third.
A change of possessions saw Hillsboro take over on its own 8 following a Central punt with just over 5 minutes left in the game.
The Hawks methodically drove the length of the field, the big plays being completions of 39 and 24 yards to Kelum, the latter reception coming after a Tigers defender slipped on the slick artificial surface, allowing Kelum to move the ball to Central's 22.
"We were stopping them at the line of scrimmage with the run, we just couldn't seem to contain the pass," junior linebacker Jacob Boerboom said.
Four plays later, on 3rd-and-10 from the 11, Horn faked a handoff, rolled right, then stopped and threw the ball back against the pursuit to Martin, who had a step on the Tigers' defender. Martin leaped, caught the ball, then managed to get a foot down in bounds for the go-ahead score with 23.2 seconds remaining.
"I saw [Martin] running in the back of the end zone between two defenders," Horn said. "I was able to put the ball where I needed to, and he was able to put his foot down and come up with a fantastic catch."
The Tigers' last gasp ended when Vinson's pass to the sideline was intercepted and returned 23 ºyards for a touchdown with 9.5 seconds left.
Norman lamented the fact the Tigers had the ball for most of the first quarter deep in Hawks territory but could muster just two Calvin Lovig field goals.
"That hurt," Norman said. "We had our opportunities to get in there, but twice we came away with three points instead of six. That obviously hurt us."
Hillsboro 28, Central 20
C -- Calvin Lovig 26 field goal, 5:54
C -- Lovig 30 field goal, 1:36
H -- Chris Walsh 1 run (Andreas Lervik kick), 1:54
C -- Jacob Campbell 29 run (Lovig kick), 9:41
H -- Nick Baumgartner 26 run (Lervik kick) 7:54
C -- Dennis Vinson 1 run (Lovig kick), 2:06
H -- Brennan Martin 11 pass from Justin Horn (Lervik kick), :23.2
H -- Jacob Kelam 23 int return (Lervik kick), :9.5
Rushing -- Central, Campbell 37-218, Mikey Jones 4-17, Vinson 5-8, Kyle Thompson 3-4, Chris Martin 1-0. Hillsboro, Baumgartner 11-62, Trey Terry 8-22, Kelam 5-19, Walsh 5-10, Horn 1-(minus 7).
Passing -- Central, Vinson 3-12-2-55. Hillsboro, Horn 9-14-0-210.
Receiving -- Central, Garan Evans 2-17, Thompson 1-38. Hillsboro, Kelam 3-12, Martin 2-39, Garrett Anderson 2-32, Walsh 1-11, Terry 1-2.