Hawks turn to seniors to put Eagles away early

JEWELL – A fireworks display at Taylor Field welcomed the South Hamilton seniors onto the gridiron here Friday night.

The players than spent the next 48 minutes setting off their own fireworks.

Yards and touchdowns came in bunches for the Hawks, as they rolled through Eagle Grove, 64-8, to assure themselves of their first postseason berth since 2007.

Coupled with Nashua-Plainfield’s 35-19 loss to Aplington-Parkersburg, South Hamilton (6-2, 4-1) now sits all alone in second place in Class 1A District 3 heading into the final week of the regular season. A road victory over the Huskies this week would give the Hawks a No. 2 seed and first-round home playoff game.

Senior tailback Devin Howard rushed for a game-high 161 yards and four touchdowns on just 18 carries while playing roughly half of the game for South Hamilton, which handed Eagle Grove (0-8, 0-6) its 18th consecutive loss. Ironically enough, the Eagles last win came over South Hamilton, 27-20, during the final week of the 2011 regular season.

Howard’s stroll through the Eagles’ defense was only a portion of South Hamilton’s 303 ground yards and 386 yards of total offense. Senior quarterback Matt Hislop added 35 yards rushing and a touchdown; he also completed 6 of 9 passes for 64 yards.

“I’m extremely proud of our seniors,” South Hamilton head coach T.J. Schaefer said. “They’ve helped turn the program around and it took a lot of leadership in the offseason. They believed in what we’re doing and they executed well (on Friday). I owe all of our success this year to our seniors.”

Eagle Grove accumulated just 120 yards – only 28 in the first half – and trailed 56-0 before it finally got on the scoreboard against the Hawks’ reserves early in the fourth quarter.

The Eagles also turned the ball over four times. Trevor Ullestad intercepted his state-leading eighth pass and returned it 87 yards down the field for a touchdown. Hislop and Andy Cook also picked off Eagle Grove quarterback Devon Omvig, and Brian Carroll recovered a fumble.

It took less than one quarter for the game to get out of hand. Howard raced into the end zone on scampers of 4 and 10 yards, Hislop broke off a 20-yard TD run and Garrett Evans plowed in from 1 yard out to stake South Hamilton to a 28-0 lead just 11 minutes into the contest.

“The kids are still learning on how to come out and play football right away and this was a great game for us in that aspect,” Schaefer said. “That’s what we kind of expected to see and that’s something that we’ve really tried to engrain into their heads all year.”

Ullestad’s defensive gem early in the second quarter pushed the Hawks’ advantage to 35-0 and Howard tacked on a 30-yard scoring sprint less than five minutes later.

Schaefer went to his bench late in the second quarter, but it didn’t stop the onslaught. Back-up QB Collin Hill raced into the end zone from the 3 to make it 49-0 at the half.

Howard added one more touchdown – a 5-yard run – in the third quarter before taking the rest of the game off.

Titan Johnson closed out the rout with a 3-yard TD run with 3:43 remaining in the final period. He racked up 55 yards on just five totes.

Zach Zoske led the Hawks’ receivers with one catch that covered 34 yards.

Brandon Stuhr paced Eagle Grove with 31 yards rushing.

Friday’s game in Nashua will test the Hawks, Schaefer says, and that’s why the preparation needs to be spot-on in the days leading up to the contest.

“Having this kind of momentum going into that last game is huge,” he said. “We kind of needed a shot in the arm and I hope this gets them into it to the point where we show up (today) and bring it every day until Friday.

“It’s going to be a great game. (Nashua-Plainfield) likes to bring a lot of pressure on defense and that obviously puts the pressure on the offense.”