By Kelsie Hoitomt
GLENWOOD CITY – The Hilltoppers hit the gridiron last Friday night (Oct. 25) to host the Clayton Bears in the first round of the playoffs, which they dominated in a 50-8 victory that ended the Bears’ season.
The Bears were a team the Toppers faced off against in the 2012 season for the Level 2 game. They were a strong team with a 6-0 record in their Lakeland-South Conference, but they were no contest for the defending state champions.
Due to the strong wind that night, the Hilltoppers kept to their running game, which was explosive right from the start after Isaac Tuttle carried the ball to the Bears’ 35 yard line on the opening drive after starting on the 20.
Jeff Kopacz carried the ball to the 15 yard line and then it was Blayze Wood who rushed for another Hilltopper first down.
With the ball now sitting on the two yard line, Tuttle pushed his way into the end zone for the Hilltopper first touchdown of the game. Kopacz completed the two-point conversion to put the score at 8-0 with 8:07 still remaining in the first quarter.
The Bears were forced to punt from midfield on their opening possession. Due to the wind at their backs, the ball was booted out of the end zone and the Hilltoppers again started their drive from the 20 yard line.
With a third down and four yards to go with the ball on Clayton’s 26, Nick Mrdutt held onto it for a 12 yard gain to give the Toppers the first down.
They gained another first down after Kopacz sprinted down the left side of the field for 31 yards. He again wrapped his arms around the ball for another big gain, this time of 19 yards to put the Toppers on the 12 yard line.
Kopacz gained the third, first down of the possession after moving the ball from the 12 to the two. Then it was Tuttle who stepped up to the line and pushed through once again for the Toppers’ second touchdown. The two-point conversion was unsuccessful, but they were still in the lead 14-0.
The Bears started their next sequence on their own 45, but quickly lost yards after Donovan Fornal laid down a big hit, which brought up third down and 11 with the ball on the 35 for Clayton.
They were again forced to punt, but the snap was fumbled by the punter and the Toppers began their drive on the Bears’ 35.
The second quarter would start with the Toppers on the ten yard line after a 21 yard run from Mrdutt. Kopacz picked up a gain of five yards and then it was Tuttle who finished off the possession with the Toppers’ third touchdown. Kopacz carried in the two-point conversion to put the score at 22-0.
The Bears’ first drive in the second quarter was short lived after a pass from Bryce Befort seemed to land in slow motion right into the hands of Mrdutt for the interception.
Mrdutt would run the ball in for his first touchdown of the game to put the Toppers ahead 28-0 with 8:56 still on the clock.
In three minutes the Hilltoppers would have the ball in the end zone once again after Tuttle sprinted down the middle of the field for a 44 yard run. Wood scored the two-point conversion to put the score at 36-0.
The Bears would lose the ball on their fourth down attempt during the following drive after Befort tried to get the five yard gain, but was tackled by Charlie Shackett.
The Hilltoppers took over on the 35, but lost the ball on a fumble. Again the possession changed hands, but the Bears came up empty handed and were forced to punt as the clock ticked to zero for the halftime.
The Bears were tough on defense to start the third quarter as they held the Toppers to within sight of the goal line, but no score was achieved as Mrdutt’s two passes fell incomplete and two runs by Tuttle were held back.
The Bears took over on downs on the one yard line and a pass from Befort to Brandon Gilbertson got the ball out of the end zone and to the 28.
It was then senior, James Hoffman who found an opening and sprinted down the field for the Bears first and only touchdown. Their two-point conversion was successful, which put the score at 36-8 with 1:59 left in the quarter.
Mrdutt would carry the kick return to the 41 to start their drive. Kopacz and Tuttle worked their feet to move the ball to the 32, but it would still bring up fourth down and five yards.
The Toppers would go for the fourth down attempt with Tuttle holding onto the ball. It was too close and a measurement was called for and the verdict was a first down for the Toppers on the 30.
Mrdutt gained 12 yards on a quarterback keeper to put the ball on the 18 yard line. They would switch to the opposite end zone as the fourth quarter began.
In ten short seconds, Kopacz took off with the ball and he hit the right corner of the end zone for the touchdown. Mrdutt tossed the ball to an open Jake Hierlmeier for the two-point conversion to put the score at 44-8.
With the clock now continuing to run and the Hilltoppers’ junior varsity team on the field, they would hold the Bears on their fourth down attempt. The Toppers would start their final drive of the game on downs with the ball on Clayton’s 46.
Jake O’Meara took the hand off from Nick Schone and he ran the ball to the 34 yard line for the first down. Billy Norenberg had a eight yard gain and then it was O’Meara with an additional six yards for another first down.
With the ball on the 20 yard line, Schone had the quarterback keeper for a five yard gain and then it was Norenberg once again, which set the ball on the four yard line.
From the four, it was Marcus Ullom who carried the ball into the end zone for his first varsity touchdown to give the Hilltoppers their final score of 50-8.
The clock would strike zero with the Bears in the possession of the ball at midfield.
The Hilltoppers blew up the field in rushing yards with 393 on a total of 47 attempts. The dynamic duo of Kopacz and Tuttle ran for a combined 269 yards. Kopacz had 135 yards on 17 attempts and Tuttle was one yard behind with 134 on 16 attempts.
Also contributing was Norenberg who finished the night with 22 yards, O’Meara had 15 yards, Ullom had five yards and Wood had four.
Finishing the night at quarterback was Mrdutt with 78 rushing yards himself and he had the one completion to Hierlmeier for three yards.
Next in line for the Hilltoppers will be to host the Owen-Withee Blackhawks for the Level 2 Division 7 playoff game this Friday night (Nov. 1) starting at 7:00 p.m.
The Blackhawks finished number one in their Cloverwood Conference with an 8-1 record. They defeated Newman Catholic 28-16 to advance to the game against the Hilltoppers.
The winner of that contest will go on to play the winner of the Pepin/Alma vs. Greenwood/Granton game.