Hillsboro loses heartbreaker to Forest Grove, 26-21
Wow. That's all you can say after Forest Grove snatched victory from the jaws of defeat Friday night, Oct. 5, at Hare Field in Hillsboro.
Trailing 21-20, minus the ball and without a timeout with just under two minutes on the clock, the Vikings forced a timely — or untimely dependent upon your rooting interest — turnover, then struck on a Jarod Miller to Cameron Ulloa 55-yard touchdown pass with 1:00 remaining in the game to defeat the Hillsboro Spartans 26-21 on a cool and damp night in Washington County.
"In the huddle we talked about never giving up," said Forest Grove quarterback Jarod Miller. "We always say play to the end, and that's what we did."
Viking head coach Perry Herbst reiterated his quarterback's sentiment, speaking to one of the team's season long mantras shortly after the game.
"We have a core value of 'finish' and we preach to the kids to keep competing and trust in each other," he said. "And they did."
Entering the game, this reporter would've called the Spartans an underdog. But to Hillsboro's credit, the home Sparts never played like it, battling back from an early deficit.
After a handful of unsuccessful drives to start the game, two of which ended in turnovers by both teams, the Vikings drew first blood, scoring on a 15 play, 75 yard drive, culminating with a Miller to Dominic Funk 9-yard touchdown pass to give Forest Grove a 6-0 lead. As referenced before however, Hillsboro didn't quit, responding with a 13 play drive of their own, moving the ball 60 yards and scoring on a 12 yard scoring run by junior running back Thomas Johnson. Following a successful Spartans extra point, the home team led 7-6 with 2:57 left before the half.
Forest Grove appeared to be headed for another scoring drive with time ticking away in the first half, but after driving to the Hillsboro 40 yard line with just under two minutes remaining in the second quarter, Hilhi's Nate Smith made a dazzling one handed interception on a Miller pass to the flat, spinning 180 degrees and heading the other direction for a 55 yard touchdown to give the Sparts a 14-6 halftime lead.
"We couldn't give them any more confidence, and that's exactly what we did" said Herbst. "We needed to put a drive together, get the lead, and I thought we'd be fine. But to their credit they made a great play and put us down at the half."
The Vikings answered on the opening drive of the second half, going 62 yards in four plays, capped by a 12 yard touchdown reception by Funk. Forest Grove went for a two point conversion, and when Cole Hammond pulled in a Miller pass in the corner of the end zone, the game was tied 14-14 and appeared to be heading the Vikings' way. But again Hillsboro responded, this time on a 5-yard touchdown run by Johnson on the first play of the fourth quarter, and after a successful Beni Lacatus extra point, they again led, this time 21-14.
"At that point I thought we were a stop away from taking control of the game," Herbst said. "But they (Hillsboro) kept fighting, and I give them all the credit for that."
But so did Forest Grove.
On the Vikings' next drive, the visitors — after a nice kickoff return by Seth Peterson — drove 27 yards to the Hillsboro 13 before Miller again threw successfully to the end zone, this time to junior Reilly McLoud for a 13-yard score. Trailing by one and with only 8:52 remaining in the game, the Viks elected to go for two. But after a delay of game penalty set them back another five yards, Miller was sacked and Forest Grove trailed 21-20.
The Vikings had two more drives thwarted by a tenacious Spartans defense, the last of which seemed to put the final nail in Forest Grove's coffin with just less than two minutes remaining on the clock.
"I was sitting there thinking whether Hillsboro was going to take a knee," said Herbst. "If not, I told the kids to strip the ball."
On the next play, Forest Grove's Dominic Villarreal did just that, stripping the ball from the Spartan ball carrier as he neared the sideline, and Cameron Bennett fell on it, giving the Vikings a last shot from their own 30 yard line with 1:24 left in the game. After a pass interference call moved the ball to the Forest Grove 45 yard line, Herbst called the play, the players executed, and the rest is history.
"On the play before, I thought he (Ulloa) could get around him, so I said let's run the same play into the boundary and see if we could beat that corner," Herbst said. "Cameron (Ulloa) has done a great job in the last couple of weeks getting vertical on people, so I knew he was due to get one, and Jarod (Miller) hit him in stride."
Miller praised his coach for the play call, but also his receiver, who he said did a great job getting open.
"I saw the safety drift over to the other side, so I took the shot," said Miller. "It felt like a good ball and Cameron set him up real well."
For his part, Cameron was both excited and nervous before and during the play that ultimately decided the game.
"After I beat the kid I was thinking, 'please throw it to me,' and it felt like forever for the ball to get to me," the receiver said. "The whole time that ball was in the air I thought I was going to drop it, but I got it."
With the win, Forest Grove improved to 3-2 in league play and 4-2 overall.
Hillsboro dropped to 1-4 in conference and 1-5 overall.
The Vikings were led by Peterson who rushed for 77 yards on 14 carries, Funk who had 10 catches for 80 yards and two scores. And Miller, who finished 25 of 41 for 282 yards and four touchdowns.
The Spartans were led by Slade Shufelt who carried the ball 13 times for 70 yards, and Johnson who had 62 yards on the ground and two touchdowns.
Forest Grove plays at Hood River Valley next Friday, Oct. 12, at 7:00 P.M.
Hillsboro is scheduled to play at Cleveland Thursday, Oct. 11, also at 7:00 P.M.