By Craig Ladd
Special to BSW
Hillwood is playoff bound for the second year in a row after kicker Liam
Dougherty nailed a game-winning 44-yard field goal with 3:29 remaining as the Hilltoppers edged Montgomery Central, 24-21.
The win coupled with victories by Lipscomb Academy and Kenwood enabled Hillwood to finish third in Region 6-4A. They will travel to Maplewood, which finished second in Region 5-4A.
“All week we talked about being just 1-0 … treat this game as if it were an NFL Wild Card game and advance in the playoffs,” said Hillwood coach Kurt Page.
Dougherty was the unexpected hero of the night considering he had only one field goal attempt on the year, which he made from 35 yards in Week 2, and again the senior was money splitting the uprights with room to spare.
“Liam makes them routinely from 47 yards in practice, so I knew we were in his range,” said Page. “He has continually improved and we practiced this situation.”
Things looked bleak for a return trip to postseason as Montgomery Central tallied three unanswered touchdowns after Hillwood scored the night’s first points as quarterback Hale Page connected with wideout Kendrick Gordon on a 70-yard strike.
Trailing 21-7 with 3:09 remaining in the first half, the second-year Hillwood coach decided to go for it on fourth and 14 on Toppers 49-yard line but Hale Page’s pass attempt to wide receiver Kenneth Redd fell incomplete.
But the Hillwood defense quickly returned the offense to the field, creating a turnover on the Indians second play of the drive as QB Madison Murphy mishandled the hand off to running back Chris Wall and defensive tackle Eric Jennings recovered the fumble at the Hilltoppers 45.
Feeling a momentum swing, the offensive coaching staff went for the big play and Hale Page found wide receiver Alton “Smurf” Troutman, Jr. on a 55-yard touchdown pass cutting the deficit to seven points at the half, 21-14.
“Sudden change is a great time to go for a big play,” said Page. “Our vertical passing game made that happen with great protection from the line and a tremendous route by Smurf and throw by Hale.”
Hillwood would tie the game at 21 apiece on Page’s third touchdown pass of the game and second to Troutman from 33 yards to end the third quarter.
After linebacker Daniel Bonner forced a fumble by Murphy that was recovered by defensive linebacker Anthony Buchanan at the Hillwood 31, the offense methodically drove the ball down field on a nine-play drive that consumed 8:31 seconds setting up Dougherty’s game-winning field goal.
The Hillwood offense finished with 368 yards total offense as Hale Page passed for 317 yards and tossed three touchdowns.
Gordon had a tremendous game with 10 catches for 193 yards, including a 70-yard TD reception. Troutman also came up big with two receptions for 88 yards, both being touchdowns of 55 and 33 yards, respectively.
Running back Antonio Walton led the team in rushing with 11 carries for 69 yards, including sealing the win with a 13-yard run for a first down that allowed the Toppers to end the game in victory formation.
After allowing 21 points and 150 yards rushing in the first 24 minutes, the Toppers shutout Montgomery Central in the second half and surrendered only 18 yards on the ground and just 84 yards total offense.
“Midway through the second quarter, our defense gained confidence in defending their offense and that made a huge difference,” said Page.
For the third straight game, Brandon Lyles finished with double-figure tackles totaling 11. The senior linebacker leads the team in tackles, tackles for loss and sacks with 69, 14 and 3, respectively. Buchanan enjoyed his most productive game of the year with nine tackles, including two for loss and a fumble recovery. Walton also finished with nine tackles and Bonner had eight stops along with a tackle for loss, pass break up and forced fumble.
Hillwood’s return appearance to the playoff is the first since the 2003-2004 seasons. This time they are hoping for better results after having lost at Springfield in the first round last season.
“Maplewood is an old NIL rival from back in the day,” said Page. “In looking at their film, they are very talented with plenty of size and speed.”
Kickoff for the playoff game at Maplewood is 7 p.m.
Hillwood Comes Through to Earn Playoff Bid