Never say never

Hillman pulls off upset playoff win over Au Gres

News Photo by Jonny Zawacki Cutline: Hillman running back Billy Kolcan (22) rushes the football during the first quarter of a Division 8 first round playoff game against Au Gres on Friday at Au Gres High School.

AU GRES –Anything can happen in the playoffs.

Just ask the Hillman football team.

The Tigers entered Friday night’s first round playoff game as huge underdogs, but executed a near perfect game plan and did what no other team could do during the regular season against an undefeated Au Gres team that averaged 48 points coming in.

Hillman shut down the Wolverines’ offense and made life miserable for dynamic quarterback Caden Zeien as the Tigers pulled off one of the biggest wins in school history, defeating Au Gres by a score of 15-6.

“We wanted to control the ball and we played hard and smart every down. We bent a little bit on defense, but we didn’t break and we continued making adjustments,” Hillman coach Bill Koenig said. “We were the underdog coming in and everyone knew it. We went against a good football team and all of my credit goes to my assistant coaches who put together an unbelievable defensive game plan.”

The Tigers were unable to take advantage of a fumble recovery on Au Gres’ first drive, but Hillman did exactly what it had planned early on as they held the ball for all but three minutes in a scoreless opening quarter.

The Tigers had good field position much of the night, but couldn’t put points on the board early.

Au Gres opened the scoring in a big way on its first possession of the second quarter when Ryan Schwiderson broke free up the middle for a 62 yard touchdown run to give the Wolverines a 6-0 lead.

Hillman put together another long, sustaining drive on its next possession, but stalled out at the Wolverines’ seven yard line.

Au Gres suffered another costly turnover just three plays later when a Zeien pass was deflected and Jared Juergens made a stellar play to keep both feet in bounds for the interception and give the Tigers another golden opportunity which they eventually cashed in on.

The Tigers used a six play drive and got on the scoreboard when Billy Kolcan powered his way up the middle with 30 seconds left for a two-yard score. Caine Hunt converted the two point try to give Hillman an 8-6 lead after one half of play.

“Our defense was disciplined all night. We limited the big plays and got pressure on Caden most of the night and our boys were fired up tonight,” Koenig said. “Our running backs ran with power all night and I think we played a little more physical than they did tonight and it paid off for us in the end.”

The second half was no different as Hillman’s defensive line continued to pressure Zeien and the secondary was up to the task all night as it shut down what was to that point an explosive Au Gres passing attack. 

The Tigers made two big fourth down stops in their own end during the third quarter and Hillman put together its best and most important drive of the night when it chewed six minutes off the clock and took the lead after a 12 play drive that resulted in quarterback Kyler Moir connecting with Kolcan on a nine yard pass for a touchdown. Kicker Anton Schultze made a crucial extra point to make it a two score game with the Tigers leading 15-6 with 20 seconds left in the third quarter.

Au Gres looked as if it were going to cut into the lead midway the fourth, but again the Hillman defense held strong and forced a turnover on a fourth and five at the Tiger five yard line.

Hillman took over with a nine point lead and 5:21 to play, but coughed the football up on the next play setting up the Wolverines with a first and goal from the 10 yard line.

The Tigers defense came up with another big stop and forced four consecutive incomplete passes as an Au Gres touchdown was taken off the board after an illegal forward pass.

Hillman got the ball back with 4:47 remaining in the game and like it did all game, the Tigers milked the clock picking up two key first downs before punting with 47 seconds left.

Au Gres was unable to pull off any kind of magic as the Tigers held on to win their first playoff game in 10 years.

“I’m almost at a loss for words. It took 10 years to get my second playoff victory, but it feels so good to get another one in my final year and I couldn’t be happier,” Koenig said. 

Not only did Hillman hold Au Gres to  six points, but the Tigers kept Zeien out of the end zone for the first time in nearly two years and held the Wolverines to just 258 yards of total offense, while holding onto the ball for a total of 32 minutes in the game.

Kolcan led the ground attack with 104 yards on 24 carries and had one touchdown on the ground and through the air. Hunt added 88 yards rushing on 26 carries.

Hillman advances to a second round matchup with Alcona in Lincoln on Friday.

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