Hilldale’s Senior Night has turned out to be a three chapter story.
The end will come tonight, regardless of the outcome, when the 10th-ranked Hornets (10-2) clash with No. 3 Seminole (12-0) at Hornet Field in a Class 3A quarterfinal.
The first senior night for 18 players came against Westville in Week 10 of the regular season. Having clinched the runner-up spot in 3A-7, the Hornets earned a first-round playoff game at home against Spiro. The 32-7 win there along with a 14-12 road victory against Metro Christian gave them one final home encore.
It represents some significant measures too.
“We’ve never been unbeaten at home in a season in school history,” said linebacker Jake Leybas. “That was a goal we had and now we’ve just got to take that one more week. And if we do that we also accomplish another thing we set out to do this year was to go further than we did last year.”
Last year’s team, which many of these 18 seniors had quite a bit to do with, went three rounds deep into the postseason for the first time ever. Last week’s win was the program’s first playoff road victory.
To get a fourth week and a semifinal shot opposite the Kingfisher-Beggs winner, they’ll need to that out an offense that did enough to get past Metro Christian while the defense found its way to four turnovers.
Defensive coordinator Ryan Keenom, whose unit played the best he said he’s seen it play this season in that win, credited quarterback Chandler Puckett for as much for what he didn’t do, excluding the 58 yards passing and 67 total yards against a defense which had shut six teams out and held all but two opponents to six points or less. Hilldale had nine yards rushing and Bradley Campbell, who has passed 1,000 yards in receiving, had two catches for two yards.
“In those games like that whoever plays the best on defense and makes the fewest mistakes on offense is going to win the game,” Keenom said. “We knew we had to do the job. Our quarterback made some smart choices in not throwing into coverage.”
This week, instead of a passing offense like Metro had, it’s a run game of Papi White and his 2,813 yards so far this season. It’ll be up to the Hornets to both contain White and crank up some offense of its own against a 4-2 defense where most of the playmaking is done by linebackers Tanner Knox (6-0, 185, sophomore), Dalton Meeks (5-8, 160, senior) and from the backside, safety Ryan Tilley (5-8, 160, senior), all with over 100 tackles.
“They’re not one of those high fancy offenses but what they do they do well,” said Seminole coach Mike Snyder of his opponent.
“The quarterback is a good player, the tailback is a good player, their play-action game is real good and they present us with some problems. Last week’s weather was so bad that if you take away a team’s ability to run and make people throw it, well, it’s pretty miserable weather to throw in.
“We know how good Metro is. We beat them in the third round last time. There’s good teams out east and this is as tough a class as there is. We’ve prided ourselves on not giving up the big play and making people drive the length of the field on us.”
However Hilldale can score more points than the Chieftains, they’ll take it, said Hornets quarterback Chandler Puckett, who will lead his team for the final time at home.
“Last year’s accomplishments were pretty awesome,” he said. “This year you obviously want to take it further. I think it means a lot to do it at home, especially with it being the last home game we can possibly ever have so it makes it really special.”
“We’ve talked about the opportunity. We got to this point last year, now we’ve got to take it a step further,” said Hilldale head coach Chad Kirkhart. “When you’re down to eight teams, you have to play well in every aspect of the game. That’s what we have to do.”
No. 3 Seminole at No. 10 Hilldale
Records: Seminole 12-0, Hilldale 10-2.
Last week: Seminole 52, Heritage Hall 27; Hilldale 14, Metro Christian 12.
Last meeting: Seminole 48, Hilldale 28 (2001).
Series record: Seminole leads, 4-0.
Notes: Second straight season that Hilldale has advanced to the quarterfinals…Hilldale won its first road playoff game last week.