By Kelsie Hoitomt
HAMMOND – The Hilltopper football team finished their regular season play with a 36-14 victory over the St. Croix Central Panthers in Hammond on Thursday.
The Toppers slid into second place in the Dunn-St.Croix Conference rankings with their win over the Panthers and they tightly secured their spot in the first round of playoffs.
The game was a total blow-out going into the fourth quarter with the Toppers leading 30-0 over the Panthers.
They were without lead runner Isaac Tuttle due to him being out sick, but the Toppers never missed a beat as Jeff Kopacz, Matt Schouten and Adam Holmquist stepped up to carry the ball for a combined 212 rushing yards.
The first quarter was a back and forth shoot out on the field as neither team was able to put the ball in the end zone.
The Toppers defense was able to stick tight to the Central receivers and hold their passing game, which was a major component to their success in earning the win.
The defensive line applied serious pressure on the Panthers, forcing quarterback Carl Moll to scramble out of the pocket and make incomplete passes.
Moll was sacked twice, back to back towards the end of the first quarter, forcing the Panthers to punt.
The first quarter ended with the Toppers on the Panthers 41 yard line after a 25 yard pass was completed from Nick Mrdutt to Richard Ross.
That drive ended on the seven yard line as they came up short on fourth down with one yard to go.
Moll set up in shotgun formation and completed a pass to Cody Nyhagen and Aaron Delander, but again the Toppers were able to knock the ball away and force the Panthers to punt.
The Toppers would start their drive on the Panthers 35 yard line and the legs of Holmquist, Kopacz and Mrdutt would bring the ball to the one yard line.
Mrdutt would score on the quarterback keeper and the two-point conversion to put the Toppers ahead 8-0 with 4:41 left in the first half.
Schouten would intercept a pass thrown by Moll to end the first half with the Toppers leading 8-0.
Schouten then started the second half of the game as the Toppers received the kick off and started their drive on their own 23 yard line.
They moved to the 50 yard line on a 14 yard pass completion from Mrdutt to Blake Ramsden.
Then it was again the legs of Schouten, Holmquist and a 26 yard pass completion to Kopacz that brought the ball to the five yard line.
Mrdutt would keep the ball for his second touchdown of the game to put the Toppers ahead 14-0 with five minutes left in the third quarter.
The Panthers following drive ended rather quick after Skylar Peterson stepped in front a pass by Moll for a 61 yard touchdown interception run.
Mrdutt held on to the ball for the two-point conversion play to push the Toppers further ahead 22-0.
The Topper defense would hold the Panthers to an unsuccessful fourth down attempt and they would take over on their own 31 yard line.
The Toppers would shift positions on the field as the fourth quarter began with the ball on the Central 26 yard line.
Kopacz ran the ball on three plays to within the goal line. Mrdutt handed the ball off to Schouten who pushed through the line for the touchdown. Kopacz took the ball in for the two-point conversion play to put the Toppers at 30-0 in with nine minutes left in the fourth quarter.
The Panthers caught a break after a fumble was scooped up by Nyhagen who ran the ball in for a 30 yard touchdown.
Moll handed the ball off to Nyhagen who passed it to Lathe for the two-point conversion play to finally put the Panthers on the board 8-30.
The Toppers following drive would end after a pass from Mrdutt was intercepted by Ryan Gulich and a late hit penalty against the Hilltoppers would put the Panthers on the 50 yard line.
Moll completed three passes between Nyhagen and Lathe before he carried the ball in himself for the Panthers second and final touchdown of the game with just under three minutes left to play.
The Toppers would recover the onside kick and then a break in the game happened after the sprinkler system decided to turn on.
Holmquist would take control of the drive to push the Toppers from the 50 yard line down to the 30 yard line.
Mrdutt then found an opening and studder-stepped past a few defenders and into the end zone for his third touchdown of the night.
With 30 seconds left on the clock, the Panthers would receive the kick off and manage to have one final pass attempt, but the game would end in a Hilltopper victory 36-14.
Kopacz led the team in yards with 121 rushing yards and 40 receiving yards. Mrdutt had 98 yards rushing and threw for 79 yards on four completions. Holmquist rushed for 70 yards. Schouten rushed for 21 yards. Ramsden had one reception for 14 yards and Ross had one completion for 25 yards and a punt for 32 yards.
The Panthers only had 10 yards rushing, but Moll had 262 yards passing with 21 completions out of 37 attempts. He leads the conference in passing yards with 2,067 so far this season. Nyhagen led the team in receiving yards with 120 in the game.
“I was very proud of our kids in how they handled adversity with two kids out of the starting line-up. We moved three kids to positions they have not played and they stepped up big for us. We played very disciplined within our game plan, which is great credit to our kids. Our offensive and defensive lines played extremely well and controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. And we really emphasized putting pressure on the quarterback and not allowing yards after the catch,” shared coach Shane Strong.
The Hilltoppers will host Turtle Lake this Friday, October 19 for the first round of playoffs, starting at 7:00 p.m.