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Early interception runback kick-starts Hilhi offense in 54-point outing at home

PMG PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - Hillsboro's Ryan Benedict (35) tackles St. Helens' Jacobi Allen (25) during the Spartans' football game versus the Lions at Hare Field in Hillsboro, Ore., on Friday, Sept. 13, 2019.If it wasn't top gear it was at least a high gear Hillsboro's football team kicked into Friday night.

The Spartans went from 7 to 54 — points — in one week.

After falling 14-7 to crosstown Glencoe on Sept. 6, Hilhi trounced visiting St. Helens 54-14 Friday at Hare Field.

All of the Spartans' points came in the final three quarters and after a 0-0 opening frame.

St. Helens, using its run-oriented wing-T offense, ran 21 first-quarter plays to three by Hillsboro — but the last Lions snap from scrimmage in the opening quarter was a momentum- and game-changer.

The Lions had cracked the red zone when senior defensive back Tristin Keffer intercepted a Jakob Robbins pass over the middle and returned the ball 79 yards to the St. Helens 7-yard line.

"That interception helped us a lot. I think it really relaxed us on defense," Hillsboro coach Dan Shuff said. "Up till then, we were spinning our wheels a bit defensively and not giving our offense a chance to go do what they did."

The pick and long runback ended the first quarter, and on the first play of the next period, junior Slade Shufelt scored up the middle.

Keffer said he was expecting that kind of St. Helens pass in that situation and that the Spartans' defense had practiced for that during the week.

"When the ball my hand, I kind of bobbled it, but I turned around and caught it and just started going," Keffer said. "I saw open field and then I saw the angle coming, but I was trying to get in the end zone. But my team, the offense, pushed through."

The Lions, who dropped their opener at home last week 44-7 to Redmond, stayed close for most of the first half, surviving two snaps that went over the head of punter Kyle Parnell thanks to his ability to make athletic plays and get off a couple of boots under duress.

"We started better than last week, and at times we moved the ball really well on offense and did some good things," St. Helens coach Cory Young said.

But the Spartans began to separate themselves from their Class 5A Special District 1 foe when senior Thomas Johnson broke a 63-yard touchdown run with 3:36 left in the half.

"I just hit the inside, and as soon as I saw my main man Moises Monterroso hit that crack block, I cut back and all I saw was daylight," Johnson said of the play, which gave Hillsboro a 13-0 lead.

Then, after Hillsboro's defense forced a three-and-out, senior quarterback Kane Kianus led the offense on a hurry-up scoring drive for a 19-0 halftime advantage.

The Spartans got the ball at their 44 with 2:18 left in the second quarter. Kianus hit senior tight end Nate Smith and then Keffer for 14 yards each, and a few plays later the 6-6 Smith came down with a semi-Hail Mary throw on third-and-21. The play worked for 34 yards to the 5, and on the next snap Kianus folled left and hit back back Trevor Schubmehl, a 220-pound senior, in the flat for six points.

PMG PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - Hillsboro's Nate Smith makes a grab during during the Spartans' football game versus the Lions at Hare Field in Hillsboro, Ore., on Friday, Sept. 13, 2019."Two big plays, two kind of defensive breakdowns led to really long plays for them in that first half," Young said. "Other than that, we thought we were pretty solid, until we had some breakdowns later on. Tip your hat to Hillsboro."

Back in the halftime locker room, the Spartans weren't satisfied.

"We hadn't even run half the plays we'd put in for the game," Shuff said. "We told the kids to not be satisfied with where we were.

Hillsboro took the second-half kickoff and marched 71 yards in 12 plays, the biggest a 31-yard Kianus completion to senior wideout Scott Ellis on third-and 15.

Johnson scored on the ground from the 7, and Hillsboro was up 26-0 with 6:44 to go in the third quarter.

"Once we finally were able to settle down and get the ball to our offense, we were able to get our game plan going," Shuff said. "It gave us the confidence we were looking for, and we got a lot of young kids in (late in the game), so they got a chance to get some experience, and it gave our starters some much-needed rest."

Things never really improved for the Lions, although they were able to score in both the third and fourth quarters.

Robbins hooked up with wide receiver and fellow junior Chayton Leake-Morrison for 74 yards to the Hilhi 6 to set up a 2-yard TD run by Parnell on fourth-and-goal. That made the score 32-7 with 1:32 left in the third quarter.

In the fourth quarter, down 46-7, the Lions drove 95 yards in 12 plays and capped the possession with a 3-yard run by junior Austin Waite.

Just prior to that St. Helens drive, the Spartans' defense had produced a touchdown, with senior DB Damon Chavez returning a pick of Robbins 37 yards.

"We felt pretty confident coming in," Kianus said. "After watching film on them, we knew we could exploit some things in their defense, and we did. We just did our job."

Kinaus finished the night with 11 of 19 for 165 passing yards.

Johnson had nine carries for 83 yards, Schubmehl three for 49 and Shufelt four for 37.

And Hillsboro totaled 425 yards on 53 plays while holding the Lions to 289 on 58.

"We just came out and played hard and had a game plan that was good," Kianus said. "We didn't play scared. We just played hard. We took advantage of their corners. We saw we could throw deep all game, and we did. We just executed.

"Our skill players are very good this year. We have a lot of depth there."

"The offense was really clicking," Johnson said. "And we have a lot more potential."

"We just went back to the lab Monday after that tough loss to Glencoe," Keffer said. "We knew we'd played hard. We knew we had some stuff to fix. And we did that."

St. Helens moves on to face Milwaukie next week. That game is 7 p.m. Friday at Alder Creek Middle School.

Hillsboro will visit eighth-ranked Scappoose at 7 p.m. next Friday. The Indians won 41-14 on Friday at Forest Grove.

"We've got two teams the next two weeks in Scappoose and Wilsonville (at Hare Field on Sept. 27)," Keffer said.

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