2011 Recap: 5-5 Overall, 1-3 in CKL North, 2-1 in District.
Throughout the regular season, Hillsboro was undefeated against CKL South opponents including a gigantic win over two-time defending South champion Hesston in a vicious rivalry game. The problem for the Trojans is they are a CKL North team. But despite the league standings, Hillsboro went through the first six games at a respectable 3-3, and was ready for the district round. The Trojans took care of business and earned a sixth consecutive trip to the playoffs where they lost to Sedgwick in the first round.
Returning Starters: Offensive 6, Defensive 6
2012 District: Halstead, Marion, Moundridge
Last season, Hillsboro averaged 23.1 points per game; not a bad number but one that leaves the door open for improvement. With 10 seniors and two juniors ready to lead the unit, the Trojans will be ready to score more points in 2012.
Hillsboro will have four seniors on the offensive line, providing a solid foundation for the offense. Returning starters Nathan Unruh, Carter Pankratz, and Dylan Jirak are all experienced and looking to finish their high school careers with a bang. Tanner Jones is looking to join his classmates and make a difference on the line of scrimmage as well.
Losing quarterback Luke Moore will not be a luxury for Hillsboro. But Lucas Sinclair is a capable senior who has waited for his chance and is ready for the opportunity to lead the team on the field. Sinclair will have the benefit of not only an experienced offensive line protecting him, but an experienced backfield to hand the ball to as well. Tyler Proffitt and Tyrell Thiessen are a dynamic pair of seniors who know how to run the ball, and Mitchell Day is a senior running back who brings a ton of explosiveness in a small package.
Back for his final season in Hillsboro is 6-foot receiver Shaq Thiessen who has been a dangerous member of a receiving corps that has been a strength of the team. Thiessen is joined by junior Christian Ratzlaff who is another big target for Sinclair at 6-foot-2. Evan Ollenburger is another junior anxious for his chance at making a mark on the tradition of Hillsboro receivers. To make things even scarier for opposing defensive backs and linebackers, senior tight end Josh Wiebe is returning to give Sinclair yet another option in the Trojans’ offense.
On the defensive side of the ball, Hillsboro will be looking for a little more consistency. Last season, the Trojans held opponents to a total of 26 less points than they scored. But Hillsboro’s defensive performances were split completely in half, resulting in a .500 season.
In its five wins, Hillsboro held opponents to an average of 5 points per game, and picked up shut outs against Lyons and Marion. But in their five losses, the Trojans gave up an average of 36 points per game.
Hillsboro has a trio of seniors on the line of scrimmage that will be able to set up the rest of the Trojans’ defense. Nathan Unruh and Dylan Jirak are returning to the defensive line and Carter Pankratz adds a 280-pound frame to take up blocks and control the point of attack as well.
At linebacker, Hillsboro has a pair of seniors who are ready to improve the defense. Tyrell Thiessen and Tanner Jones are a couple of sizable seniors who are looking to punish ball carriers.
In the secondary, Hillsboro has got depth teams should envy. Lucas Sinclair, Tyler Proffitt, Mitchell Day, and Shaq Thiessen are all senior defensive backs with experience, and Evan Ollenburger returns as a junior. Josh Wiebe is another senior defensive back who can deliver a heavy blow coming up in support of the run. Christian Ratzlaff is a junior who will be tough to throw over the top of at 6-foot-2. In total, the Trojans have seven defensive backs who can play, giving Hillsboro the luxury of having players push each other in camp, and give each other breaks during games to stay fresh.
Odds and Ends:
The last time Hillsboro missed the playoffs was in 2005. Last season was the sixth year in a row the Trojans qualified, and although the districts have been changed, Hillsboro figures to be an even better team this year with the amount of talent returning.
But the road to a seventh-straight playoff season will not be without peril. The first six games of the season do not really provide a break for the Trojans. After playing Lyons to open the season, Hillsboro’s next four games against Sterling, Nickerson, Hesston, and Smoky Valley is a brutal stretch. Sterling beat Hillsboro 30-14 last season, and the games against Hesston and Smoky Valley were decided by a combined total of 11 points. The Trojans didn’t face Nickerson last season, but the Panthers are a tough opponent as well.
If Hillsboro can make it through that stretch, this team has a reason to be very confident heading into the district games, and the playoffs after that. Stumble through the non-district portion and the win/loss record will be instantly wiped clean, but resetting mentally is sometimes not as automatic.
While Hillsboro principal Max Heinrichs is no longer the head football coach, the Trojans are in good hands with Lance Sawyer. Sawyer is one of two coaches moving from 8-Man Division II to an 11-Man CKL team, along with James Johnston in Lyons. There will be some adjustments for these coaches. But with the fast-paced, almost arena-like 8-Man game, it will be interesting to see what kind of offensive wrinkles the 8-Man coaches bring with them to the 11-Man game.