Hillsboro High’s tandem of quarterback Tyler Proffitt and Shaq Thiessen shocked Nickerson High with a pair of first-half touchdown passes.
The Trojans’ defense finished the job by forcing four second-half turnovers to spark a 28-6 football victory over Nickerson Friday in a battle of unbeaten Central Kansas League division leaders.
Thiessen exploited the Panthers’ one-on-one coverage for 36- and 62-yard touchdown strikes sandwiched between a 21-yard touchdown strike from Ryan O’Toole to Tyler Owen. Tyrell Thiessen’s 5-yard touchdown handed the Trojans a 21-6 lead.
Proffitt completed 12 of 21 passes for 155 yards with Shaq Thiessen catching four balls for 110 yards.
“This could establish us for the rest of the season. All week, everybody said it was our week to make a statement against a good football team,” Proffitt said. “Shaq is great because even when I don’t throw it that great, he’ll make a move and jump over someone to catch the ball.”
Nickerson coach Max Heinlein was impressed by Shaq Thiessen.
“We had good coverage one time and didn’t get our head turned around,” he said. “Shaq is the best receiver we’ve seen so far.”
Perennial Class 3A playoff qualifier Hillsboro (3-0) turned back Nickerson (2-1) twice in goal-line situations. Free safety Shaq Thiessen intercepted two passes by O’Toole and Tyrell Thiessen and Cody Delk recovered O’Toole fumbles off heavy pressure.
“It was all on our defense because our defense played extremely well,” said Hillsboro coach Lance Sawyer. “Shaq gets a lot of credit, but he’s an athlete. He’s quick to the football defensively. We’ll take that one-on-one coverage with Shaq every time.”
The Trojans led 21-6 when Nickerson was stopped after a first-and-goal right before halftime.
Hillsboro got a break when an apparent touchdown pass to Sean Rodriguez was called incomplete after he touched a foot inbounds after catching the football from O’Toole. The sideline official did not signal a touchdown, but ruled instead that Rodriguez juggled the catch several seconds after the play.
O’Toole was stopped on third- and fourth-down runs by linebackers Tyrell Thiessen and Tanner Jones.
“That goal-line stand was huge,” Sawyer said. “That kept the momentum on our side. I was impressed by how our line handled Nickerson. We played downhill and we played fast. Had they scored, who knows how that would have turned out.”
The Trojans front of Cody Delk, Nathan Unruh, Dylan Jirak and Josh Wiebe kept good pressure on O’Toole, who rushed for two touchdowns on scrambles last week. O’Toole completed 8 of 22 passes for 121 yards. The Panthers managed 96 rushing yards. Owen had 70 yards receiving and 54 yards rushing.
“We did a good job mixing in the defensive schemes,” Sawyer said. “We knew we had to get good pressure on their quarterback.”
The 275-pound Tyrell Thiessen rumbled through the Panthers’ defense with 56 hard-earned yards. Proffitt rushed for 63 yards, most on quarterback delays. Hillsboro gained 120 yards rushing. The Trojans padded their lead to 28-6 after Shaq Thiessen’s interception on a 7-yard touchdown by Proffitt.
“Our line blocked extremely well,” Sawyer said. “Tyrell is an offensive force. We planned a couple more plays because he’s a big kid who is hard to bring down.”
Heinlein’s Panthers had executed a physical style their first two games, but were beaten at their own game. Outside of Tyler Owen’s hard tackle on Evan Ollenburger, the Trojans won the physical battle.
“Give a lot of credit to Hillsboro because they smacked us in the face and we never responded really well,” said Heinlein. “Hillsboro played a more physical game. When a team plays that physical style, you’ve got to play with better resolve.”
The Panthers shut down the Trojans’ passing game the second half behind interceptions by Jake Stiverson and Sean Rodriguez. Nate Hiatt recovered a fumble. Nickerson reached the 10-yard line and 25-yard line the second half, but were kept out of the endzone.
Nickerson lost momentum when center Duncan Ensminger and fullback-linebacker Bailey Zulkoski were sidelined with injuries.
“There’s a lot of things where we’ve got to get better for next week,” Heinlein said. “All 11 of them have to execute and that didn’t happen tonight. Bad things happened. We struggled in the Red Zone tonight. We’ve got a good team tht I believe will respond next week.”
Hillsboro, riding a streak of six straight playoff trips, travels to Hesston (1-2) and Kingman (1-2) journeys to Nickerson (2-1) Sept. 20.