Two quick TDs ignite Hillsboro Spartans to 28-7 win over St. Helens Lions
ST. HELENS — Two plays that worked just the way Hillsboro drew them up gave the Spartans an early 13-0 lead, and then a strong finish enabled the visitors to wrap up their first win of 2018.
Hillsboro (1-1) withstood a midgame challenge from the Lions (0-2) and used a late safety and touchdown to win, 28-7, at Doc Ackerson Stadium.
The Spartans took a 6-0 lead on their first play from scrimmage. A toss sweep to fleet junior running back Thomas Johnson worked for 49 yards and a touchdown.
"We worked on that play in practice all week," Johnson said. "It was really set up for the type of defense St. Helens runs, with their corners playing on the inside shade. We knew with my speed from track if I got on the outside I was gone."
After a second three-and-out by the St. Helens offense, the Spartans took over on their 29-yard line — and again on the first play, Hillsboro went all the way.
This time, junior quarterback Kane Kiaunis found junior tight end Nate Smith over the middle for what turned into an off-to-the-races, 71-yard TD play.
"That was awesome," Smith said. "O-line did what it needed to do. My QB made a great throw. It was executed perfectly. We got them on play-action, and they couldn't stop me from there."
Hillsboro coach Dan Shuff said the bang-bang start came down to his team executing the game plan, and his players said they believed good things would happen if they did.
"We'vve been working on those two plays this whole week. That was the game plan," Johnson said. "We knew it was going to work."
St. Helens refused to be buried further, though.
The Lions made a goal-line stand that started at the end of the first quarter and carried over into the second quarter.
Hillsboro had driven from its 11 to first-and-goal at the 1. But the Lions stopped runs for no gain and a loss of four, batted away a third-down pass in the end zone and then intercepted a throw into the end zone, with sophomore cornerback Ashton Smith making the first of his two picks in the game.
After that, the Lions got their running game in gear and seized some momentum.
"Hillsboro came out and got us on those two early plays, formation-wise and executed really well. Tip our hat to them, they were ready to go," St. Helens coach Cory Young said. "But we cleaned that up as soon as possible and started playing from there.
"Our kids don't panic. You give up two scores on your first two plays and some teams will drop their heads. Our kids didn't — they were, 'we can do this, we've just got to battle and take care of some stuff."
Hillsboro did stop one St. Helens threat with an interception, as junior defensive back Tristin Keffer played a Lions pass perfectly to make the pick for a touchback.
But the Lions scored on their next possession behind their line's solid blocking and the running of shifty junior Jacobi Allen, all of which set up a 20-yard touchdown strike from sophomore QB Jakob Robbins to junior wide receiver Hayden Bigham.
At intermission, St. Helens was within 13-7 and "the kids were excited," Young said.
Shuff said Hillsboro had let up in part because "the inexperience got to us a little and we didn't keep our focus. And we need a little more conditioning."
The Spartans regained more of the upper hand, though, with a key, long drive in the third quarter. The march lasted 13 plays and covered 80 yards. Kiaunis rolled to his right and found the 6-5 Smith in the back of the end zone for a 2-yard TD pass.
"That was another great throw by my boy Kane," Smith said. "Amazing throw. Great ball, I just brought it down."
The PAT by senior Beni Lacatus boosted the Spartans' lead to 20-7 with 3:20 remaining in the third quarter.
Kiaunis had kept the drive alive with a third-and-12 pass to junior Elian Lopez-Arana that went for 15 yards and gave Hillsboro its initial first down of the drive.
"The kids fought back. We were able to keep our wits about us," Shuff said of his team's second-half play.
The rest of the game, Hillsboro turned up its defensive efforts, notably its pass rush, putting pressure on Lions QB Robbins.
A sack gave the Spartans two points with 4:18 left in the game.
After the ensuing punt gave Hillsboro a short field, Johnson slashed 17 yards for the final touchdown with 2:38 to go against a Lions defense that looked a bit weary.
"I don't know about them tiring, because it was a hard-fought football game, it was four quarters," Johnson said. "We let up in the second quarter, but you've got to play four quarters if you want to dominate a team, and St. Helens was in it the whole way, we just got them at the end."
On its final possession, St. Helens drove from its 33 to the Hillsboro 20. Robbins connected with senior wideout Chris Beatty for 30 and 15 yards. But in the final minute, Hillsboro junior Daniel Popovych intercepted a St. Helens pass in the end zone.
St. Helens was coming off a 44-21 loss Aug. 31 at Redmond, while Hillsboro fell the same night to Glencoe, 38-14.
Shuff said he thought his team had started the opening game "a little starry-eyed last week, and we had to shake off some stuff. We came out a little more confident this week. We broke down film over the week and learned a lot. We left a lot of points on the board against Glencoe, but we played for each other this week and got the confidence going."
"Great win coming back after Glencoe," RB Johnson said. "We prepared a lot, and our team really came together the last couple days. We came out with a lot different mindset, that we can't be a single-man football team, we have to be an 11-man or whole-unit Hillsboro Spartans to win football games."
The Spartans' next game is 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 14, at Hare Field against Scappoose (2-0), which has home wins of 27-0 over Astoria and 44-32 Friday versus Forest Grove.
The Lions will be back in action on Friday, playing host to Milwaukie at 7 p.m. The Mustangs fell 41-7 last week at McMinnville, then won Friday at Putnam, 12-7.