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Keller, Hillsboro overcome slow start to top undermanned Festus

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HILLSBORO • A short memory helped the Hillsboro football team.

The Hawks entered halftime trailing rival and massively undermanned Festus by one point in a Mississippi Area Red Conference game Friday night.

“Some of our leaders came in and said, ‘Come on guys, we can do better than this,’ and, ‘This is awful,’ ” Hillsboro senior Micheal Keller said. “So we just threw away the first half and started over in the second half.”

Keller provided the spark, rushing for 96 of his 150 yards and scoring two of his three touchdowns in the final two quarters to lead Hillsboro to a 30-14 victory.

Festus had two key players — starting quarterback Austin Coale and wide receiver Tyler Roth — dismissed from the team because of disciplinary reasons on Thursday. Chase Cole took over at quarterback after taking his first serious snaps on game-day.

“You come out and compete with these guys with a makeshift quarterback that says something about my kids; it says something about him,” Festus coach Russ Schmidt said.

Keller jumped-started Hillsboro (3-1 overall, 1-0 conference) with a 26-yard touchdown run to give the Hawks a 14-7 lead early in the third quarter. The Hawks capitalized on a defensive stand as their front stopped Festus on third-and-1 and fourth-and-1 from the Tigers’ 40-yard line, turning the ball over on downs.

Keller started the fourth quarter with a 35-yard touchdown run to extend Hillsboro’s lead to 22-7.

“We knew we had an awful first half,” Keller said. “After we scored twice we knew we had them right there.”

Joe Gregory’s 78-yard touchdown run midway through the fourth gave the Hawks a commanding 30-7 lead.

Festus (1-3, 0-2) took a 7-6 lead into halftime, despite being outgained by Hillsboro 227-97 in the first half and not getting its initial first down until only three minutes remained in the second quarter.

Logan Uding drug six Hillsboro defenders into the end zone on a 7-yard run with 1:24 left in the half gave the Tigers the lead. Uding set up the score with a 55-yard run on the previous play as Festus gained 81 of their first half yards on that drive.

“We came over here under some pretty duress circumstances and I think everybody underestimated our kids tonight,” Schmidt said. “Getting on the bus we didn’t know what to expect tonight and this was the first time I didn’t give a halftime or pregame speech. I was pushed aside by our seniors and their leadership.”

A Keller 5-yard touchdown run gave Hillsboro a 6-0 lead with 3:55 left in the first quarter.

Hillsboro was its own worst enemy in the first half, fumbling the ball three times and losing one of them.

Penalties thwarted two would-be scoring drives. A false start derailed the Hawks’-game-opening drive and a holding penalty nullified a 26-yard touchdown run by Keller. Both drives ended with a turnover on downs.

The miscues meant the Hawks couldn’t take advantage of a decided field position advantage as Hillsboro’s average first half drive started at its own 44 as opposed to Festus’ average start at its 23.

Hillsboro had its own distractions to deal with. It was senior night and the game was dedicated to Phoenix Spangler, a Hillsboro student who passed as a freshman and would have been a senior this year.

“Our routine was not normal and it was not normal today, a lot of extra activities today and the things I don’t’ want to get lost is this game was devoted to Phoenix Spangler,” Hillsboro coach Lee Freeman said. “All of those seniors on our team knew her and emotions were running high.”

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