Hillsdale celebration

Hillsdale players, students and fans celebrate at Northmor on Friday night after the Falcons rallied from a 21-10 deficit in the fourth quarter to win, 25-21.

IBERIA -- As the Falcons celebrated Friday night, Hillsdale coach Trevor Cline told junior QB Ty Williams that his face was bleeding.

"Yeah, well, you should have seen the other guy," said the smiling 6-2, 205-pound junior, who rushed for 126 yards in the victory.

The "other guy" was a stunned Northmor Golden Knights team, which watched a 21-10 fourth-quarter lead evaporate in a 25-21 Hillsdale playoff victory.

The win moves the Falcons (8-3), ranked fifth in Division VI, Region 22, into the regional semifinals next Friday against No.-8 seed Carey (6-5). The Blue Devils stunned top-seeded Western Reserve, the Firelands Conference champion, 50-41, on Friday night.

The other regional semifinal will match second-seeded seed Seneca East (10-1) against third-seeded East Knox (11-0). Next Friday's game locations will be announced on Sunday.

Northmor saw its season end with a home playoff loss and a 9-2 record.

"This group has been really resilient throughout the year. It's been one of those years that we have had a lot of close games. I think having had that through the regular season helped us be ready for this moment tonight," Cline said.

At a school which has earned eight playoff spots, including the last four consecutive seasons, the Hillsdale alum Cline said the win ranks near the top of the list.

"We knew our kids had a lot of heart. It's just how the season went. We dealt with a lot of injuries (including losing starting QB Caden Mutchler to a broken collarbone in week seven). Guys have had to step in to learn new roles and have done a phenomenal job.

"Tonight was the same thing. Down a couple of touchdowns late in the game, a lot of teams would just sort of pack it in. Our kids kept battling and gave themselves a shot to win it," Cline said.

THE STOP: Hillsdale, which saw four of its games decided by a single score during the season, fell behind 21-10 after three quarters on three Northmor TD passes from senior QB Hunter Mariotti to 6-5 senior tight end Blake Miller (66 yards, 14 yards and 14 yards).

Mariotti

Northmor quarterback Hunter Mariotti rolls out against Hillsdale on Friday night. The senior threw for 199 yards and three TDs in a 25-21 playoff loss to the Falcons.

That passing success was nothing new to the duo. Mariotti entered the game averaging almost 180 yards per game through the air, with 22 TD passes on the season, 10 of which had gone to Miller.

Hillsdale's only score at that point had been a trick play, when sophomore receiver Cole Sinnett took a reverse pitch, stopped and connected with a wide-open sophomore Justin Zeigler on a 75-yard scoring pass midway through the second quarter.

Down by 11 in the fourth, sophomore running back Ethan Goodwin gave the Falcons new life when he ripped off a 73-yard TD run with 10:08 remaining. Williams ran in the two-point conversion, cutting the deficit to 21-18.

It was then the Hillsdale defense that made the big play, stuffing Northmor when the Golden Knights failed on a 4th-and-one from their own 34-yard line with 6:42 remaining.

Northmor came in averaging 36 points per game, but were thwarted by a Hillsdale defense led all night by senior inside linebacker Briar Funk (6-2, 220), a four-year starter who holds the school record with more than 400 career stops.

Paired at inside LB with Williams, who led the team with 114 tackles during the regular season, Hillsdale held five opponents to one TD or less during the regular season.

"(Funk) just knows how to find the football and make plays," Cline said. "He is not only a tremendous football player, he's a great kid, one of the best leaders I have been around. This year, he has done a phenomenal job of leading the football team."

Cline said Northmor coach Scott Amrose, who has taken the Golden Knights to the playoffs three straight seasons, did exactly what he would done in the same situation.

"You gotta believe in your guys to get that one yard. Our defensive line did a great job of shooting the gaps and our linebackers filled perfectly on that play," Cline said.

Briar Funk

Senior Briar Funk hands the ball to an official after scoring the game-winning touchdown for Hillsdale on Friday night with just 3:11 left to play.

THE SCORE: Armed with momentum, Hillsdale pounded the ball on the ground, finally scoring on a 4-yard run by Funk with 3:11 left to play. Zeigler, who connected on his seventh field goal (a school record) in the first half, nailed the PAT kick.

"We talked to the kids all week that we had to be the more physical team. That last drive was a perfect example. Our kids just lined up and took it to them. They weren't gonna back down from anyone and weren't gonna be satisfied until we got into the end zone," Cline said.

"We said this drive is between you ending your season or moving onto the next round," Cline said.

To Williams, it was just a matter of finding out what would work, including zone-option reads.

"We knew we had been running it just OK throughout the game. We knew we really needed to step up and find some plays that were working for us. Everybody stepped up and did their job on that last drive.

"On our team, everybody believes in the person standing next to him. We knew if we could get some stops on defense, our offense would start clicking at some point and it did," Williams said.

Cline said Williams has done well taking over for Mutchler, though he completed just two of five passes against Northmor.

"He does a really nice job reading the option. Ty can throw the ball, but we're not looking to throw the ball 15 to 20 times a game. We have to go to the strengths of our players," Cline said.

All that remained after taking the late lead was stopping Northmor one more time. Hillsdale did that when Sinnett picked off a Mariotti pass.

STATISTICALLY SPEAKING: Hillsdale had 10 first downs, rushing for 285 yards on 36 carries, including 106 from Goodwin. The Falcons as a team completed three of six passes for 86 yards, with three interceptions.

Northmor had 14 first downs, running for 113 yards on 35 attempts, led by 116 yards from senior Wyatt Reeder. Mariotti completed 12 of 14 passes for 199 yards with two interceptions. Miller finished with 142 yards receiving.

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