In a game pitting two young teams desperately in need of a win, it was ultimately a timely play and two untimely mistakes that decided the outcome in Hillsboro's 28-16 win over Forest Grove Friday night, April 2, at Forest Grove High School.
Trailing the Vikings 16-6 midway through the second quarter, Hillsboro's junior running back Adonai Nava-Perez muffed a kickoff but quickly righted the ship en route to what would end up being an 85-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. That play pulled the Spartans to within 16-14 following a successful 2-point conversion attempt.
After the game, Hillsboro head coach Dan Shuff pointed directly to Nava-Perez's score as the turning point in the visiting Spartans' win.
"We knew this team was tough, and early on, we were shooting ourselves in the foot," Shuff said. "But that kickoff return kind of boosted our spirits, because we were pretty down in the dumps for a bit there."
The Spartans (2-2) were led all night by running back Slade Shufelt. The senior battered the Vikings for 128 yards on 20 carries, three of which went for touchdowns.
Following an initial Forest Grove score, a 46-yard scoring run by receiver Ayden Case, Shufelt pulled Hillsboro within 8-6 on a 34-yard scoring run of his own.
Forest Grove (0-5) answered, however, going 72 yards in seven plays to take a 16-6 lead on a 25-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Kaden Clute to Sage Gustafson, followed by a second successful 2-point conversion. It was on the ensuing kickoff that Nava-Perez worked his magic — and in many ways, turned the game on a dime.
"What else can you say? It was a big play," Forest Grove head coach Perry Herbst admitted. "But I thought we battled back and thought we were starting to wear them down."
And he was right.
After Hillsboro scored again to take a 20-16 lead on a second Shufelt touchdown, a 3-yard run with 53 seconds on the first-half clock, Forest Grove appeared poised to take back the lead on its second possession of the third quarter before a goal line fumble handed the ball back to Hillsboro deep in the Spartans' own territory. Hillsboro took full advantage of the Vikings' mistake, going 83 yards in 14 plays on a drive that included two fourth-down conversions, capped by yet another Shufelt touchdown, this one a 29-yarder to put the Spartans ahead 28-16 just before the end of the third quarter.
"I think if we punch that in, it's a different story," Herbst said. "It was, obviously, another in a long line of big mistakes we made tonight."
On Forest Grove's next possession, history repeated itself when the Vikings drove 77 yards before again fumbling inside the Hillsboro 5-yard line, thwarting a drive — and, for all intents and purposes, ending Forest Grove's shot at a late-game rally.
"It was too bad, because I thought our guys gave it all they had tonight," said Herbst. "I thought the guys left it all out there tonight and gave it everything they had. I was proud of them."
Shuff was proud of his guys as well, speaking to his young team's growth in recent weeks. Of the development in his players, none was more evident than freshman quarterback Calvin Perkins, who started his first game against the Vikings.
"We're definitely seeing a lot of growth in him," Shuff said. "He's confident out there, and he's not afraid to make mistakes. The team rallies around him, and they have a lot of confidence in him."
Shufelt noted the young signal-caller's growth since he stepped in for injured starter Ian Ingram a game ago at Scappoose. It's been a common theme amongst the youthful talent that's been getting a lot of playing time this season for the Spartans, the senior running back remarked.
"Guys have really stepped up, and they want to step up for the seniors," Shufelt said.
Shufelt added that every win is a blessing, but more so this year, it's simply playing that he and his teammates are happy about, considering what they've been through over the past year because of the coronavirus pandemic.
"It's just amazing to be out here again," Shufelt said. "I was preparing all offseason, hopeful that we'd get this chance. So to get this work on the field, it's just amazing."
And that opportunity wasn't lost on the Viking seniors or their coach on this night, either, after playing their last home game.
Herbst acknowledged all of his seniors in their postgame huddle, but he pointed specifically to senior lineman Shane Parrow as an example of what a leader is all about.
"Shane just exemplifies what we want in a football player," Herbst said. "The guy's the strongest kid I've ever had. He and center Malakhi Grimm, along with Saul Tinoco, are the heart of this group. A coach can't ask for any better."
Forest Grove is scheduled to play at archrival McMinnville next week as part of the state's "culmination week," while Hillsboro will face Centennial.
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