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Gridiron Knights Win By One Yard, One Point In Tough Postseason Battle With Hillcrest

By Anthony Jones

Halloween came a day early for the Hillcrest Hawks football team last Saturday as they faced a monstrous outing from Triad’s defense.

Foreshadowing the rest of the game, the contest was kicked off with two possessions ending with punts, setting up the Hawks at their own 45 yard line. This short field was taken advantage of by the Hawks who methodically moved downfield.

Ultimately punching the ball in with a 23 yard pass on a third and long, Hillcrest took first lead as they went up 7-0 late in the first half.

Several drives stalled out before the Knights took over at the beginning of the second quarter from their own 48 yard line. A long drive ensued as Triad marched downfield on the ground, including a sizable pickup from Jackson Buck who advanced the ball to the Hawk’s 28 yard line. Buck later picked up another key run as he converted a fourth and five to push the offense into the red zone.

Capping off the over 6 minute drive, Nic Funk ultimately put the Knights on the scoreboard with a one yard keeper. The following point after try was blocked, keeping Hillcrest in the lead at 7-6.

Responding with a long drive of their own, Hillcrest marched down to the Knight’s 9 yard line on the following drive. Triad stiffened however and forced a turnover on downs.

After forcing a quick punt, the Hawks were set up nicely after returning the ball to the host’s 26 yard line. This outing proved more successful, as they threw an 8 yard touchdown on fourth and goal with 6 seconds left in the half. The ensuing point after try was pushed wide left however, keeping their lead at 13-6.

During the halftime break, Triad Coach Paul Bassler was still confident enough in their game plan that they didn’t much, “We did make some changes at halftime in terms of blocking and talked about our blocking schemes. We added another blocker in with our fullback, so we could run the same play we had success with in the first half, but with our fullback as the lead blocker instead of the ball carrier. That allowed us to feed our halfbacks and keep going in and out. That really was the only change. They never adjusted to our heavy front, so we just took advantage of it.”

The confidence in their system showed in the opening drive of the half as they were faced with a fourth and four from the Hillcrest 34 yard line. Triad’s offense stayed on the field and Jason Randoll took the ball for five yards.

A long tout from Ryan Hazelwood came on the following snap, pushing the offense to their opponent’s 12 yard line. Buck ultimately found paydirt for Triad with a four yard scamper and successful boot from Jake Ellis knotted things up at 13-13.

Following a few swaps of possession, Hillcrest took back over the ball late in the third quarter after Ryan Butler scooped up a fumble at the Triad 47 yard line. The Hawks made Triad pay for the turnover by launching a deep touchdown play shortly later.

In what would later become a very important sequence, the Hawks were flagged for a false start before attempting the point after kick. Being pushed back five yards, they decided to go for a two point conversion. Ater pitching the ball to their running back, he lobbed the ball blindly into the end zone, but a sea of Triad defenders knocked the ball to the ground.

Back on offense, Triad put together a nice 62 yard march that lasted several minutes into the fourth quarter. They ultimately finished up with a four yard tout from Hazelwood and an Ellis point after kick gave the Knights their first lead of the game at 20-19.

A quick stop from Triad’s defense forced a punt, allowing the offense to go into clock chewing mode. The first new set of downs on the drive was picked up by Funk on a keeper to convert a fourth down. Later when faced with a fourth and six, Triad had no choice but to punt however.

Bassler said after the game of the fourth down decisions on the final offensive drive for Triad, “I didn’t want to give it to them. But we had no choice on a fourth down and six, we’re just not meant for that. If it would’ve been fourth down and two, we probably would have gone for it to keep the ball away from them. They’re so dangerous, if you make just one mistake, they are in the end zone.”

Starting at their own 20 yard line and with 95 seconds to play, the Hawks went to work. They ultimately marched down the field until they were ultimately faced with a fourth and four from the eight yard line with 8 seconds left, when their quarterback tucked the ball to run. As he dove for the endzone, Triad’s Braden Carlson tackled him in bounds at the one yard line.

The Hawks lined up quickly to spike the ball but before the ball hit the turf, the clock had expired.

“It adds to my gray hair. With the defense, I can’t say enough, they bend but don’t break. It is incredible. The kids on the defensive front made plays there at the end,” Bassler said of his team’s fourth last quarter comeback and third goal line stand from within their own 10 yard line this season.

Thanks to their win, Triad has punched their ticket to a second round trip to take on 10-0 Mahomet-Seymour next Saturday at 5:00. The undefeated Bulldogs hail from Mahomet, which is a short trip northwest of Champaign.

Triad’s head coach said of their next opponent, “Mahomet-Seymour is in the same conference with Mattoon and Lincoln, so we kinda have comparable scores. We match up with them pretty good, so I feel really good about it. We’ve been on a long trip before, so I don’t think it will bother us.”

Their scores against their common opponents are similar as Triad downed Lincoln 46-28 and Mahomet Seymour downed them 53-20. Against Mattoon, the Bulldogs won 18-0 and the Knights won 26-13.

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