By Tommy Cobb
TULSA – Hilldale coach Chad Kirkhart took a big sigh of relief following the Hornets’ District 3A-7 contest with Lincoln Christian. It was the type of relief indicative of a game that was too close despite the final score.
Hilldale used a strong defensive performance and got just enough offense from Hunter Woods and Chandler Puckett as the Hornets defeated Lincoln Christian, 37-14, Friday night.
“I am extremely pleased in the play of our defense,” Kirkhart said. “We’ve told our kids all year that good defense will win games. We only give up one play in the first half and to hold a team like Lincoln to 14 points is pretty good.”
The Hornets offense, which had no problems last week, struggled in the first half against Lincoln Christian. Turnovers killed drives and kept the game close. So it was the defense that controlled the game early.
“We knew we would have to be strong on defense,” said defensive end C.J. Hunnicutt, who combined with fellow end Justin Sanders for eight tackles for losses. “We just adjusted to the formation they showed us. We were able to get a rush on the quarterback.”
Hilldale (5-1, 2-0 in district) held Lincoln Christian (3-3, 1-1) to just 88 yards rushing and kept the Bulldogs from getting their passing attack going until late in the game.
Sanders sacked Bulldogs quarterback Micah Wilson, forcing Lincoln Christian to punt early in the fourth quarter. Bradley Campbell returned it 27 yards to the Bulldog 26. Four plays later, Puckett found Campbell on a 21-yard scoring pass that gave Hilldale a 30-6 lead that seemingly put the game away.
But Lincoln was not finished.
A 44-yard kickoff return gave the Bulldogs the ball at midfield. Wilson then drove Lincoln by completing four straight passes that led to Tim Flewellen’s 1-yard touchdown run. The two-point conversion cut Hilldale’s lead to 30-14 with 4:51 remaining.
After forcing the Hornets to punt, Lincoln quickly moved downfield with the aid of a 38-yard strike that gave the Bulldogs the ball at the Hilldale 8 with 1:30 remaining. A touchdown and two-point conversion would cut the lead to one score and give Lincoln a chance for an onside kick.
But, Bradley had different plans for the drive as he came up with Hilldale’s third interception of the game and returned it 98 yards to seal the win.
“Crazy things can happen,” Kirkhart said. “If they score, you know they’re going to try an onside kick and who knows what kind of crazy things can happen then.
“I’m just glad we got the pick and return. We didn’t tackle well at the end and probably started playing a little more conservatively to prevent the big play.”
Hilldale’s ground game struggled early as Woods was held to six yards and his first four carries. But Puckett found open receivers and that set up Woods’ 20-yard run that gave Hilldale an 8-0 lead. Woods finished with 127 yards rushing on 23 carries.
Luck played a factor on Hilldale’s next drive as Matt Bargsten caught a pass off of a Bulldog defender for a 46-yard gain. Woods then gave Hilldale a 14-0 lead on a 35-yard run on the next play.
Puckett passed for 191 yards and a touchdown but threw three interceptions, two of which stopped promising drives for Hilldale.
“I told the team at halftime that if we could eliminate the mistakes, we could move the ball,” Kirkhart said.
HILLDALE 37, LINC. CHRISTIAN 14
Hilldale 14 0 8 15 – 37
Lincoln Christian 0 6 0 8 – 14
HHS – Hunter Woods 20 run (Chandler Puckett run), 2:57
HHS – Woods 35 run (run failed), 0:21
LCS – Tim Schwoegler 12 pass from Micah Wilson (kick failed), 1:12
HHS – Woods 26 run (Dylan Duncan pass from Dakota Holmes), 0:13
HHS – Bradley Campbell 21 pass from Puckett (Campbell pass from Holmes), 9:19
LCS – Justin Flewellen 1 run (Wilson pass from Schwoegler), 4:51
HHS – Campbell 98 interception return (Puckett kick), 0:55
First downs 16 17
Rushes-yards 35-168 34-88
Passing yards 191 194
Passes 13-20-3 17-40-3
Fumbles-Lost 0-0 0-0
Punt-Average 2-31 5-39
Penalties-yards 7-47 6-53
Rushing: HHS, Hunter Woods 23-127; LCS, Justin Flewellen 32-99.
Passing: Chandler Puckett 13-20-3 191; LCS, Micah Wilson 17-40-3 194.
Receiving: Matt Bargsten 2-72; LCS, Tim Schwoegler 8-112.