Keeping the streak alive

Hillman needs a win to keep playoff hopes intact

News Photo by Jonny Zawacki Hillman football coach Bill Koenig addresses his team during practice a day before the Tigers will travel to play Inland Lakes. Hillman needs a win to keep its playoff streak alive and the Tigers will be led onto the field for the final time in a regular season game by Koenig tonight.

Consistent.

The perfect word to describe the Hillman football program for the past 12 seasons.

Head coach Bill Koenig took over a program that was anything but consistent in 2005. When Koenig took over as the head man, Hillman was coming off of seven consecutive losing seasons. The transition didn’t start off all that well for Koenig as the Tigers went 0-9 in his first season at the helm.

Since then, times have changed and so have the Tigers. Koenig will lead Hillman onto the field for one final regular season game as he has already made it official that this will be his last year as head coach before the Tigers make the transition to 8-man football next season.

It hasn’t always been easy, but for over the last decade, Hillman continued to find success despite having their backs against the wall on multiple occasions.

Tonight, Hillman (4-4) heads to Inland Lakes facing a scenario that this program and this group in particular are familiar with.

The Tigers are in need of a road win to continue a playoff streak that has lasted 11 years and become a goal to continue each year when a new season approaches. The last 11 Hillman football teams to take the field experienced a postseason game. The Tigers look to extend the streak to 12 tonight.

“I think we are pretty well prepared for Inland Lakes this year. We are healthy and we’re going to come out, play hard-hitting football and hopefully at the end of the game we’re in the win column,” Koenig said.

This 2017 season has been exactly the same as last year. The Tigers dropped their first three games of the season, only to bounce back and win four straight before dropping a Week 8 game to Whittemore-Prescott which set up the same win or go home scenario against the same Inland Lakes team.

Last year, Hillman fell behind early at home and needed to complete a remarkable comeback to win 32-29. The Tigers returned many of the players that experienced a challenging road last season this year and Koenig is confident his kids can go out and get the job done and continue the streak.

“We have eight returning seniors and after Week 3 it was like the leadership, the seniors and captains really took over and expressed some emotion and excitement to the team about how they want to end the season on a good note and that was kind of when things changed,” Koenig said. “We were able to turn our season around and these kids on the team knows what it takes.”

It will be the final regular season game that Koenig coaches and the Tigers play as an 11-man football team. The team made it a goal before the season to not only continue the streak, but go out on top with a playoff birth in the program’s final year of 11-man before starting a new tradition as an 8-man team.

“There is a little bit of pressure on the coaches and on the team. I want to go out making the playoffs and end my career with a playoff appearance,” Koenig said. “The kids want it because they don’t want to be the team that ended the streak. We have pressure on us, but we’re going to try to come out of their with a win and stay healthy just so we can continue on and I can walk away saying that I did all I could do, coaching an excellent season with an excellent group of kids.”

This streak is also more important and bigger than any of the wins and losses throughout the past 12 years. During Koenig’s tenure, Hillman has produced quality athletes on and off the football field. The streak and success has been pivotal during the past few years not only for a football team, but for a small town that has gone through tough times and heartbreak. Over time, the streak became more important not just for the football team, but for the small town of Hillman to give them something to fall back on and be proud of each and every Friday night.

“It’s so important for our community to have a successful football team. You look back at some of the instances we had and ever Friday night you still see the parking lot is full and our hill is covered with people yelling and cheering. Hillman’s athletics is a place where the community can get away from the real world,” Koenig said. “You get emotional thinking about everything we’ve been able to accomplish over the years, but our work is not done and we’re determined to win this final regular season game, get into the playoffs and go out on top.”