HILLMAN- The Hillman football team had trouble all night trying to stop Gaylord St. Mary quarterback Nick Harrington on Thursday as the nimble senior seemed to have an answer for Hillman's every move.
But the Tigers stopped Harrington when it counted most.
Dylan Ross intercepted Harrington with 46 seconds left and the Tigers survived a season-opening shootout with the Snowbirds to win 55-54, spoiling Kevin McConnell's debut as Snowbirds' coach.
News Photo by James Andersen
Hillman’s Mason VanPamel runs with the ball during the first quarter of a football game Thursday at Hilman High School. VanPamel scored three touchdowns as Hillman beat Gaylord St. Mary 55-54. Defending him on the play is Gaylord St. Mary’s Anders Marquard.
"Our team stuck together, we had faith in each other the whole game. Yeah, we had a few rough patches going on there on defense, but our whole team just kept bringing each other up," Hillman quarterback Ty Jones said.
Harrington passed for four touchdowns and ran for four touchdowns while accounting for nearly 600 yards. He put up 392 yards rushing and 161 passing yards.
He found Jack Lochinski for a 57-yard touchdown with 6:40 to go to give St. Mary a 54-48 lead. St. Mary converted the PAT, but it would come back to haunt the Snowbirds later.
"We knew he was the key. We had the video on him and we knew he could run well and he did," Hillman coach Bill Koenig said. "He was like another (Garrett) Badgero to us, that was the guy we had to stop to win this game."
St. Mary recovered on onside kick on the ensuing kickoff, but turned the ball over on downs with 2:55 left. This proved to be more than enough time for the Tigers, who needed just three plays to go 80 yards for the winning score. On 3rd-and-3, Kenny Kolcan burst through the middle and scampered up the right side 73 yards to paydirt to put Hillman ahead for good.
After missing the bulk of last year due to injury, Kulcan picked up right where he left off for the Tigers, gaining 181 yards on 16 carries with four touchdowns.
It was a welcome sign for the Tigers who missed Kolcan's power running style last season.
"You don't understand how much work Kenny's put in. From Day 1 when the doctor told him to start working out, he was in that weight room every day just pushing as far as he could push," Jones said.
The Snowbirds got the ball back on their own 30-yard line with 2:05 to play and looked to be on the verge of their first win in 19 tries. Harrington kept the drive alive with a 24-yard run on fourth down, but two plays later he was picked off by Ross and Hillman ran out the clock.
The two sides entered halftime tied at 26, but Harrington came out firing on St. Mary's first drive, finding a hole and running 43 yards for a touchdown.
The two teams matched each other nearly point for point and drive for drive after that. Jones found Mason VanPamel for touchdown passes of 23 and 41 yards and Kolcan added a 31-yard score. Harrington added touchdown runs of 72 and 34 yards for the Snowbirds.
Jones was 10-of-17 passing for 179 yards and three touchdowns, all to Mason VanPamel who had five catches for 134 yards.
Harrington needed just one play to put St. Mary on the board to begin the game, finding Lochinski for a 45-yard touchdown.
Again the two teams answered each other from there. Kolcan found the endzone for the Tigers on runs of 18 yards and 1 yard. Jones threw a 43-yard touchdown to VanPamel and added a two-yard touchdown scamper.
Kolcan put Hillman ahead 26-19 with 1:59 to go in the first half, but Harrington marched the Snowbirds down the field and found Cameron Juneac for a 15-yard score to tie the game. Juneac also had a 22-yard touchdown catch on the previous St. Mary drive.
Koenig was pleased with his team's win, but said the Tigers must improve their defense before next week's game against East Jordan.
"I thought it was going to be a shootout, if you had told me there was going to be 109 points scored, I wouldn't have believed it. I thought it would be like 28-28," he said.