Hungry for more: Tigers extend streak, eyeing deep postseason run

HILLMAN — It was a new game for the Hillman football team in 2018 as the Tigers made the transition to eight-player football under first year head coach Cody Allen.

New game, new coach, but same old Tigers.

Hillman welcomed the challenge of the eight-player game and put together one of its best seasons in program history.

The Tigers rolled to an 8-1 record behind an electrifying offense and stingy defense.

“Our first season has gone well so far. A lot of credit goes to my assistant coaches and of course the kids because they’ve brought it all together and made it easy on us. We have a good a group and everyone stepped up this year,” Allen said. “There were a lot of little things that we had to learn to fly and there are bigger differences than you realize from 11 to 8-Man, but once we got going, we started figuring it out and we’re rolling now.”

Hillman set a school record for points in a season, scoring 425 points on the way to running its long standing playoff streak to 13 straight years.

Continuing the streak is always Hillman’s goal and though one goal is already met, the Tigers have their eyes set on bigger goals as they enter the postseason.

Hillman will host a playoff game for the first time since 2011 when they welcome a familiar foe in Cedarville for Friday’s pre-regional matchup.

“You don’t ever want to look ahead, but hosting a home playoff game is something that we thought we could accomplish and we went out there and worked hard every day through the summer and through the season and it has paid off for us,” Allen said. “We’re going in with the same mindset which is work hard every day. Cedarville is a good team and we can’t take them lightly or else they’re going to come out and smack us.”

The Tigers and Trojans are both familiar with one another from their fierce battles on the basketball court over the years. It will be the first time that these two programs meet on the gridiron, but if the battle on the field tonight is anything like the ones on the hardwood, it will make for a thrilling matchup.

“Cedarville is a good team, they’re well coached, they have a lot of speed and size and they’ve played a tough schedule. It’s going to take a full team effort to come out with a win,” Allen said. “For some reason we always run into them in the postseason of different sports. It’s kind of developed (into) a little rivalry and it’s always in a regional game. It’s going to be a challenge for us on Friday, but we’re looking forward to it.”

The Trojans enter tonight’s matchup with a 5-4 record.

Cedarville has been tested all season as three of its four losses came against playoff teams.

The Trojans are a senior laden group that has plenty of experience in the eight-player game. This year marked the eighth season that Cedarville has been apart of the eight-player game and the program has had great success, making the playoffs each year, including trips to the finals and semifinals, while carrying a postseason streak of its own of 15 consecutive seasons.

The Trojans are led by a potent ground attack led by senior running back Gunner Fountain, sophomore Grant Fountain and quarterback Tristan Masuga.

Hillman has plenty of capable playmakers as well.

The Tigers have been led offensively this season by Gunner Mellingen who has had a nose for the end zone all year.

Mellingen has 1,151 all-purpose yards including 666 rushing yards and 485 receiving yards. Mellingen also has an astonishing 25 total touchdowns. He’s collected 13 scores on the ground, eight through the air, a pair of pick-sixes, along with a kickoff and punt return for a touchdown.

As dynamic as Mellingen has been, Hillman has many more offensive playmakers. Leading rusher Caleb Sanders ran for 731 yards and 10 touchdowns despite missing four games. Quarterback Kory Henigan has thrown for more than 1,000 yards and 13 touchdowns. The Steinke brothers–Nash and Gage– have also provided Hillman with a spark offensively as they’ve combined for more than 600 yards rushing and nine touchdowns on the ground.

The defense is led by senior linebacker Wyatt Barrie, with two big run stoppers in the middle in Kody Kalanquin and Fisher Linseman. The Tigers are loaded with talent and have their eyes set on doing something no Hillman team has done in program history, win two playoff games in the same season.

“A lot of people had their doubts about us when we went into 8-Man, but we all stepped up and it feels great to continue the playoff streak,” Barrie said. “We were motivated all season to make it to the playoffs and now that we’re here, we’re motivated to go even further.”