Hillsboro can't overcome a big first-half deficit in a 31-16 Pacific Conference loss

Big-time plays can lead to big-time results.

Unfortunately for the Hilhi football team last Friday, it was Forest Grove that made those plays to bookend the first half. Riding that momentum, the Vikings built up a 17-0 first-half lead and held off the Spartans for a 31-16 homecoming victory at Hendricks Stadium.

The loss dropped Hilhi’s record to 2-6 overall, 1-5 in the Pacific Conference.

The Spartans found themselves on the wrong side of the scoreboard despite the fact that they earned more first downs (22 to 15) and total yards (363 to 264), and controlled time of possession (27:01 to 20:59).

But the Vikings made the big plays when they needed HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: AMANDA MILES - Hillsboro senior running back Michael Gaskell looks for running room during last Friday's Pacific Conference game against Forest Grove.

Forest Grove running back Gio Tayetto set the tone early for the home side after Hilhi missed a 32-yard field goal attempt on its opening drive. On Forest Grove’s second play from scrimmage, Tayetto busted up the left side of the field for a 75-yard scoring run.

So with 7:15 to go in the opening quarter, the Vikings had barely touched the ball and yet they already led 7-0.

It didn’t get any better for the Spartans before halftime. David Ortiz booted a 26-yard field goal late in the first quarter to stretch the lead to 10 points, which is where it stayed until late in the half.

Then, Forest Grove defensive back Cameron Kemper took it to the house, snuffing out a Hillsboro drive with a long interception return. With about three and a half minutes remaining until the intermission, Hilhi started from its own 29-yard line. The visitors chewed up 36 yards over the next seven plays, setting up a key third-and-2 on Forest Grove’s 35.

And that’s where Kemper came in. The junior stepped in front of Spartans quarterback Garrett Paul’s pass, snatched the ball out of the air and raced up the left sideline practically untouched until he reached the end zone 70 yards later. The pick-six staked the Vikings to a 17-0 lead with just 43 seconds left in the half, putting the momentum squarely on Forest Grove’s sideline.

After Forest Grove built that healthy lead, Hilhi found it tough sledding to mount a second-half comeback. The visitors did get on the scoreboard midway through the third quarter on an impressive 43-yard field goal by Tyler Hoiem — the kick cleared the uprights with plenty of room to spare — but Forest Grove was not done yet.

Late in the quarter, Luis Fernandez sacked the Spartans quarterback — Matt Jones, this time — on third down deep in Hilhi territory to force a punt, giving the Vikings prime field position on the 26-yard line when the clock flipped to the fourth quarter.

And Forest Grove made the visiting side pay.

After a run up the middle from Tayetto, quarterback Taylor Jensen recorded three consecutive pass completions. The last one, from 13 yards out, found Ethan Thursam in the right corner of the end zone with 10:04 remaining for a 24-3 lead.

Refusing to give up, Hilhi marched right back down the other way, answering two minutes later with a touchdown on Jones’ 2-yard keeper to trim the score to 24-10.

Unfortunately for the visitors, though, they gave up one more big play that put the game out of reach. Forest Grove’s Cody Smith sealed the game when he broke a couple of tackles and danced 58 yards up the right side of the field to put Forest Grove back up by three touchdowns at 31-10 with 1:52 remaining.

Jones’ 4-yard pass to Marshall Taunton with 48 seconds left accounted for the final points in the contest.

Jones led the Hilhi offense, going 27-for-42 for 218 yards with a passing touchdown and a rushing score. Paul went 7-for-11 for 67 yards and two interceptions.

With 11 receptions for 113 yards, Dylan Frederick was the quarterbacks’ favorite target. He also was the team’s leading rusher with three carries for 37 yards. Taunton added 10 receptions for 82 yards. Isaac Nakamoto topped the defense with eight total tackles, and Taunton added an interception.

Hillsboro closes out the regular season tonight against Newberg at Hare Field. Kickoff is at 7 o’clock. After that, the Spartans will await word of their play-in game opponent and location. That game will take place by the end of next week.

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