Hillman focused on slowing down Zeien, Au Gres

News File Photo Hillman running back Caine Hunt (in black) is tackled by a Whittemore-Prescott defender during a football game at Hillman High School.

Making the playoffs didn’t come easy for the Hillman football team again this year.

For the second year in a row, Hillman suffered an 0-3 start to the season, but the resilient Tigers finished the regular season strong by winning five of their last six games to make the playoffs for the 12th consecutive season and finish their final season of 11-man football on a positive note.

Tonight, Hillman faces many challenges. The Tigers have to figure out how to slow down dynamic quarterback Caden Zeien, an Au Gres offense that has scored 384 points this year and end the undefeated Wolverines season.

“Au Gres is probably the best team we’ve played. They score fast, their well disciplined and their defense isn’t caught cheating very much,” Hillman coach Bill Koenig said. “They have played very well all season and we weren’t playing good early on in the season, but we have played much better as of late.”

Hillman opened the season with three losses against eventual playoff teams, including a 50-14 defeat at Au Gres in Week 3.

The Tigers will be heading back to Au Gres tonight with hopes of a much better performance this time around as they are riding a nice wave of momentum.

“We need to play a lot better and we need to play like have been the last couple of weeks. I think we should match up pretty well if we play to our caliber,” Koenig said. “We need to play more disciplined and we caught ourselves cheating and Au Gres doesn’t give much away so if we can play disciplined both offensively and defensively we should be ok.”

Zeien is a junior dual-threat quarterback who is built like a running back at 5-foot-7 and a stocky 180 pounds. Zeien has not only led the North Star League in passing by a wide margin the past two seasons, but he also can make plays with his legs.

A lot of the Wolverines offense relies on short, quick screen passes out of the backfield. Occasionally Zeien will go up top to his go-to target Trevor Jamroz who’s 6-foot-2, 198 pound frame gives him the ability to go up over defenders and make plays.

No one has stopped Zeien this season, so the Tigers can only hope to contain him and slow him down. Slowing down Zeien will be no easy task and Jamroz poses a big threat for the Tigers undersized secondary. Hillman has several smart and talented defensive backs, but none posess the size that Jamroz has.

“We really don’t know what he (Zeien) will do. He gets rid of the ball so fast and we’re young back in our secondary,” Koenig said “We need to get some pressure on him and get in his face a little which will be hard because they spread the defense out so much. Our defensive line is going to have to get a lot of pressure in order to make things harder for him.”

As electric as the Au Gres offense is, Hillman has several playmakers on offense and as a unit, the team has played much better over the last six weeks of the season.

In winning five of their last six, the Tigers have scored more than 30 points in each game and have scored 252 points over their past six games.

Hillman has two 1,000 yard rushers in Caine Hunt and Billy Kolcan. Hunt led the backfield with 1,086 yards rushing and 15 touchdowns. Kolcan ran for 1,083 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground and four more through the air while hauling in 23 receptions for 310 yards.

As strong as Hillman’s rushing attack is, it is also plenty capable of airing the ball out with quarterback Kyler Moir who threw for 882 yards and 10 touchdowns on the year. Along with Kolcan, the Tigers leading receiver is tight end Matt Hunt who is important blocking and catching passes. Hunt had 340 yards receiving and three scores during the regular season. Jared Juergens also caught three touchdowns this season, so as much as Hillman relies on its rushing game, the passing attack is also there.

“We had a talk heading into Week 4 and since then a lot has worked. Our lineman are educated and our backs have been able to run through the holes and when our backs are running good, our receivers open up,” Koenig said. “If our offense can be on the field and grind the clock out and give our defense a chance to rest and keep our opponents offense off the field that will be key.”

One of the other major factors that could change from the teams’ week 3 meeting and this first round playoff matchup is the weather. Despite a fall that was favorable for the Au Gres offense, tonight’s forecast may not be as favorable as the temperatures have dropped along with wind and precipitation possibly playing a role.

“Some people think rain is good against a passing team, but I think it’s easier on the receivers because they know when they’re making their cuts and it’s harder for defenders to keep their footing,” Koenig said. “If I have it my way it’ll be about 60 degrees and we’ll play under the lights and see what happens.”

Jonny Zawacki can be reached via email at jzawacki@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5690.