JEROMESVILLE — It took the better part of five hours, but the Falcons found a way.
Justin Zeigler booted a career-long 31 yard field goal with 4:14 remaining in the fourth quarter and Hillsdale held on for a gutty 3-0 win over backyard rival Loudonville.
The game was delayed for roughly two hours with 3:35 remaining in the third quarter as severe storms rumbled through north central Ohio. When play finally resumed after 11 p.m., the handful of fans who remained at Community Stadium were treated to a fantastic finish.
Loudonville (1-2) misfired on a 22 yard field goal with 6:01 remaining in the fourth quarter. The Falcons (3-0) took possession at their own 20 yard line and on the first play of the ensuing drive, junior running back Brandon Reardon broke loose for a 45 yard gain down to the Loudonville 35 yard line. Four more Reardon runs and an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty by the Redbirds pushed the ball to the Loudonville 14 yard line. On fourth-and-five, Zeigler calmly knocked his kick through the uprights.
“Last year I kicked a little bit if we were ahead by a lot, but this is my first season starting,” said Zeigler, who doubles as a receiver. “I was pretty confident because our coaches do a good job of preparing us for situations like that and our former kicker (Garrett Smith) taught me a lot.”
Loudonville took the ensuing kickoff and again marched deep into Hillsdale territory. The Redbirds lined up for a potential game-tying 31 yard field goal, but were flagged for a false start. Loudonville’s 35-yard attempt with less than a minute remaining came up short and the Falcons ran out the clock.
“Any time you have a delay like that, it definitely tests your patience,” Hillsdale coach Trevor Cline said. “Our kids did a nice job of dealing with delay. We were able to talk about a few things and make a few adjustments.
As for Ziegler’s clutch kick, Cline wasn’t surprised to see the sophomore answer the bell.
“For him, the moment never seems to be too big,” Cline said. “He’s a kid who always wants to go against the best guys. He got his opportunity and he wasn’t going to miss out on it.”
Hillsdale squandered several scoring opportunities in the first half, turning the ball over on downs on three occasions. The Falcons had a touchdown pass dropped in the end zone on fourth-and-goal from the Loudonville 3 yard line in the second quarter.
“We were moving the ball well. When we had big-play opportunities we were missing and that’s something we didn’t do the first two weeks,” Cline said. “You’re going to have nights like that where you miss out on opportunities, but our defense picked us up. That is three weeks in a row where they have stepped up and done their job each and every play.”
Reardon rushed for 76 yards o 13 carries for the Falcons. Quarterback Caden Mutchler completed 10 of 22 passes for 64 yards.
Alec Eldridge led Loudonville with 136 rushing yards on 25 carries. Quarterback Logan Huffman completed 3 of 10 passes for 36 yards.