Turnovers doom Tigers in first round playoff loss to Cedarville

News Photo by Jonny Zawacki Hillman running back Gunner Mellingen (22) is taken down by Cedarville defenders Jarron Masuga (34) and Sean Bale on the first play from scrimmage in a pre-regional 8-Man football game on Friday at Hillman High School. The Tigers committed seven turnovers and fell to Cedarville 44-6.

HILLMAN — The Hillman football team certainly wishes it could hit a restart button.

After not losing a fumble all season, the Tigers coughed up the ball five times on Friday and threw a pair of interceptions, committing a total of seven turnovers. All of it led to the demise of their season as Hillman had an uncharacteristic game and paid for it, falling to Cedarville 44-6 in a first round pre-regional 8-Player football playoff matchup.

“We didn’t play clean and that’s definitely not how you want to do it, but I’m proud of the guys for playing the entire game and not giving up,” Hillman head coach Cody Allen said. “The turnovers killed us tonight. We know we could have played a lot better than what we did, but seven turnovers you can’t really come back from. It’s very uncharacteristic of how we played all year and credit to Cedarville for putting the pressure on us.”

The Trojans wasted to time applying that pressure and forced a turnover on Hillman’s first play from scrimmage as defenders Jarron Masuga and Sean Bale met running back Gunner Mellingen in the backfield and forced the ball out which allowed Gunnar Fountain to scoop up the loose ball and walk into the end zone for a 16-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown, putting Cedarville up 6-0 eight seconds into the game.

The Tigers looked as if they had shaken off the early mistake and put together a long drive, but it ended with another turnover as quarterback Kory Henigan was intercepted by Trojan defensive back Trey Paquin.

Cedarville locked down the Tigers defensively all night and if the rainy and wet conditions weren’t hard enough for Hillman, the Trojans made life even more miserable for Hillman. They held the Tigers offense to 121 total yards and limited the Tigers talented backfield of Mellingen and Caleb Sanders to just 53 yards on the ground.

Despite a pair of turnovers in the opening quarter, Hillman only trailed by six when they forced a turnover early in the second quarter when Mellingen intercepted a pass, but the Tigers continued to shoot themselves in the foot with costly mistakes.

Hillman fumbled twice in the second quarter and gave the Trojans excellent field position both times. They cashed in with a pair of rushing touchdowns from Chase Fisher and the Tigers trailed 22-0 at the half.

“I just told the kids to keep grinding and try to make a run at it. We came out and played well in the third quarter, but we just couldn’t finish a few drives and overcome the turnovers,” Allen said.

The Tigers came out of the break energized and got even more fired up when Henigan intercepted a pass on the opening possession of the second half.

Hillman cashed in and gained a little more momentum when Henigan connected with Nash Steinke for a 34 yard touchdown to cut the lead to 22-6 with 5:16 left in the third quarter.

“We battled hard and the score doesn’t reflect it. I’m very proud of my guys,” Allen said. “We were rolling, but mistakes hurt us and we were shut down.”

The Tigers got the ball back late in the third quarter after forcing a Cedarville punt, but again Hillman coughed up the ball. Cedarville took over deep in Tiger territory at the 18 yard line and Jarron Masuga raced in from 18 yards out to put the Trojans up 30-6.

Jarron Masuga led the Trojans with 86 yards rushing and scored three touchdowns and Fisher ran for 63 yards and a pair of scores. Most of Cedarville’s success came running between the tackles and having a short field to work with much of the night played a huge role in the outcome of Friday’s game.

“Cedarville did the same stuff we expected and that we saw on film. We prepared for them and we sent pressure, but we just had a hard time figuring out who to get and part of that is on me, I have to be better in the film room,” Allen said.

Jarron Masuga added two more touchdowns in the fourth quarter as Hillman fumbled for the fifth time and had another pass picked off in the final seconds.

The Tigers finished the 2018 season with a sour taste in their mouth despite having an impressive regular season and first year in eight-player football.

“The season didn’t obviously end how we wanted it to, but throughout the regular season we made great strides and learned a lot,” Allen said. “Obviously we’re going to take a little break, but we’re going to gear up and get ready for next season. The kids do a great job hitting the weights and we’ll work to be better for next year.”