Hilliard played Branford in Friday’s FHSAA Region 3-1A high school football quarterfinal.
HILLIARD 34 (OT)
Star of the game: With 14-year-old freshman Lyle Bennett throwing a season-high four touchdown passes, three of them to D.J. Coston after halftime, head coach John Pate and Hilliard turned the game around to beat Branford in overtime in Friday’s Region 3-1A quarterfinal. Bennett completed only 2 of 7 first-half attempts for 36 yards, but finished 10 of 18 for 169.
Turning point: Hilliard rolled to a 20-0 first-quarter lead in the first meeting, but roles reversed in the rematch as the Buccaneers raced to 21-7 with 3:46 left in the half. Following a fumble recovery by the Flashes’ linebacker Seth O’Neal, Bennett rolled to his right on 3rd and 9 from the Branford 34. Receiving heavy pressure, Bennett floated a pass across his body. Coston, running a post, came back to the ball, caught it, and then looped around the left side to make it 21-13. On fourth down, Bucs coach Tim Clark decided to "go for the jugular," but a Dakota Hamm carry fell just shy of the required distance. From there, the momentum dramatically swung as Bennett connected twice with Coston on 28 and 15-yard touchdown tosses.
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Final drive in regulation: Following a Hilliard failed first down try, the Bucs took over at their own 17. After a first down sack, quarterback Seth Heiderman proceeded to complete five of seven passes for 89 yards, with tight end Junior Cress catching two of them, including the tying touchdown, for 47 yards. With the kicker locked up with a calf cramp, Clark called a Philly special instead, but the Colton Leibold pass was intercepted, sending this Region 3-1A quarterfinal to overtime.
Overtime: Branford’s Leibold and the Flashes’ Cody Bright met at midfield for a coin toss, with the latter getting the ball first. On fourth down from the 1, Clark sent everybody to stop Tywuan Lee, but Hilliard’s track team anchor beat them to the left corner on a toss sweep as an I-formation tailback. When Branford got on offense, an interception on the second play was taken away due to a pass interference flag. Two plays later, Heiderman scored on a 7-yard draw behind 300-lb right guard Colton Allen. Going for the win, Branford ran double hitches, their receiver potentially having joint possession. The road team immediately celebrated, but defensive back Anthony Conner wrestled it away for a game-ending interception, the Flashes’ bench breaking out onto the field following the final whistle.
Fast facts: Hilliard head coach Pate extended the Flashes’ journey from turmoil to turnaround, with his halftime speech and schematic adjustments leading Hilliard to its first playoff win since 2004 and only their third one in the FHSAA record book. ... The Flashes will drive west to face the two-time defending state champion Madison County Cowboys next Friday. ... Running back Hamm had 109 total yards and two touchdowns on 20 touches. ... Lee had -1 first half rushing yards but finished with 67 on 19 carries.
Bryant Roche/For the Times-Union