Hilltoppers Win an OT Thriller v Kenwood

"The home of hometown heroes"

The definition of the word “predict” is to declare or tell in advance, to foretell the future.

In other words, to know or tell (usually correctly) beforehand what will occur. From stockbrokers to meteorologists to psychics, they all attempt to predict the future and are accurate … occasionally.

When predicting the outcome of high school football games … well it’s unpredictable … except when Kenwood and Hillwood play.

What is predictable when the Region 6-4A foes meet on the gridiron?

The outcome will be determined on the last play.

Last Friday night, the Hilltoppers defense thwarted a two-point conversion attempt inside the 1-yard line to stun the Knights, 43-42 in two overtimes. The finish was eerily similar to last year’s meeting when the Hillwood defense stopped Kenwood inside the 5-yard line to end the game and preserve a 35-28 win.

“For the second year in a row it came down to a defensive stop to win the game and once again our defense made the play,” said Hillwood coach Kurt Page.

Trailing 43-42 in the second overtime, Kenwood coach Brian Beaubien decided to go for two and the win instead of kicking an extra point to send the game into a third overtime. Beaubien put the game into the hands of his superstar senior running back Antwuan Branch, who rushed for 258 yards and six touchdowns. The Purdue commit sprinted to the left where he was met by Hillwood’s Chris Clark. The 6-3, 300-pound defensive lineman slowed Branch down, which allowed a swarm of green-clad defenders to stonewall him short of the end zone.

“To stop Branch inches from the goal line to end the game was incredible,” said Page. “He is a top shelf running back and will continue to be at the next level.”

For a second straight game, the Hilltoppers notched the first score of the contest with a six-play, 87-yard drive culminated by sophomore quarterback Hale Page finding senior wideout Kenneth Redd on a 27-yard scoring strike.

After leading at the end of the first quarter, 7-0, Hillwood would see the second quarter dominated by Branch, who recorded TD runs of 3, 14 and 33 yards, respectively, as the Knights scored 20 unanswered points to lead, 20-7 at the half.

The Toppers would need to play much better on both sides of the ball to get back into the game.

“At the half we talked about moving the ball around, offensively and the need to do a better job of gang tackling Branch and limiting his yardage after contact,” Page said.

The tone of the second half was set early as the Toppers defense forced Kenwood to punt after just three plays. The offense, which after a first quarter 87-yard scoring drive managed only negative six yards the remainder of the first half started to click. 

A pair of 1-yard scoring runs by senior running back Antonio Walton followed by extra-point conversions by senior kicker Liam Dougherty put the Hilltoppers ahead, 21-20, to start the fourth quarter.

Hillwood would continue the scoring onslaught as Page found senior running back Kendrick Gordon on a 31-yard touchdown strike. Gordon made an incredible catch leaping up and  snatching  the  ball  away from two defenders while landing in the end zone.

With a little over three minutes left in the game, the Toppers defense would bow its neck with a fourth down stop of Kenwood inside the 10-yard line. Hillwood would use three subsequent running plays to eat up time on the clock in efforts to secure a 28-20 lead. Unfortunately, disaster would strike the Hilltoppers as Dougherty’s punt attempt was blocked with Kenwood recovering the ball at the Hillwood five.

Branch would ultimately score with 1:20 remaining in the game to pull the Knights within two points. Kenwood would convert on a two-point conversion to tie the game as quarterback Trent Johnson connected with wide receiver Darius Clark.

The Hilltoppers would take a knee to run out the remaining time in regulation and set up overtime.

Hillwood would win the coin toss and choose to play defense to begin the overtime. With ball resting at the Hillwood 10-yard line to begin the extra session, Branch would have consecutive carries of six and four yards to find paydirt. Once again Kenwood elected to go for two points and Clark converted again, this time on a jet sweep.

The Hilltoppers would now have its opportunity from the 10-yard line and Hale Page would score on a 5-yard run to pull Hillwood within two points. The Toppers now needed a two-point conversion to send the game into a second overtime. Page would drop back to pass and find Walton swinging out the backfield for the conversion and tie the game at 36.

The Toppers would have the ball first in the second overtime and on its first play, Page scrambled out of the pocket weaving in and out of traffic before using a knee-buckling fake of a Kenwood defender to race into the end zone. Dougherty would convert on the extra point to put the Toppers in the lead, 43-36.

Branch would score from five yards to pull the Knights to within one leading to the Toppers stop on the subsequent two-point try.

“I’m very proud of our team. We fought back from a 20-7 halftime deficit and then answered the bell in the overtimes. We really grew as a team,” said Page, who evened his record at Hillwood to 7-7.

QB Hale Page paced the offense passing for 202 yards and a TD and rushing for 29 yards and two touchdowns. Walton rushed for just 20 yards but had a pair of TDs. Redd led the receivers with four catches for 67 yards and a touchdown, followed by senior Monterrion McKissack with two receptions for 56 yards. McKissack had a terrific all-around game with 83 and 38 yards in kick and punt return yardage, respectively, producing 177 yards.

Hillwood’s defense, which was torched for 226 yards rushing in the first half, limited the Knights to just 117 yards on the ground in the second half. The “Gang of Green” did just that … gang tackle, limiting Branch to just 62 rushing yards in the second half after posting 186 in the first half.

“Coach Gary Clarke and assistants Matthew Childress and Randy Harrell were stellar,” Page boasted. 

Junior linebacker Daniel Bonner led the team in tackles with 11 followed by fellow linebackers junior Brandon Lyles with nine, including a team-leading 3.5 tackles for loss and a sack and senior Chris Jookar, also with nine tackles. Chris Clark was disruptive the entire night posting three tackles for loss for negative 20 yards and a forced fumble among his nine tackles.

With the win, Hillwood is now 2-1  and host Metro rival Glencliff on Friday for homecoming. It will be the last home game for the Hilltoppers until October 21.