By Kai Raymer (Ozarks Sports Zone)
SPRINGFIELD — Malik Starks wasn’t going to let Hillcrest lose on homecoming.
Not after the Hornets had come this far.
Starks’ interception on the final play of the game secured a 38-34 victory for the surging Hornets.
The game seemed over one play earlier, after Rolla’s first desperation pass into the endzone was also intercepted.
But a defensive pass interference call moved the ball up to the Hillcrest 15 yard-line and gave Rolla a second chance with an untimed down. Starks, all 5-foot-8 of him, made a leaping interception on the ensuing play to clinch Hillcrest’s third straight victory.
“I was like, ‘Ahhh, man. This might be a win-or-lose situation,’” Starks said. “Next play, the ball was up in the air and I made a play on it.
“I wanted to just secure (the ball) and made sure no one else caught it and we got the win.”
The Hornets (5-3), winners of three straight, battled back from an early 14-point deficit. The lead changed hands five times in the second half, including three times in the final four minutes.
Josh Pritchett’s 9-yard touchdown run gave Rolla a 34-32 lead with 1:04 remaining.
On Hillcrest’s ensuing drive, quarterback Haden Parton scrambled 26 yards to move the Hornets to the Rolla 31 yardline with 30 seconds left.
That’s where Hillcrest dialed up its money play.
Hillcrest called a tunnel screen pass for Josh Powell, and with Rolla essentially in a prevent defense, he had a running start to juke through the secondary and into the endzone.
“It was nerve-racking,” Hornets lineman Pierce Randolph said of Hillcrest’s game-winning drive. “Playing offense, all we’re trying to do is score. That’s what we were determined to do. In the huddle, we were all saying, ‘We’re gonna score, we’re gonna win this game.’
“There really wasn’t a doubt in my mind that we were going to win, just because we were fired up the whole game.”
Powell led Hillcrest with 64 receiving yards and added 53 rushing yards, plus a rushing touchdown.
“When you get Josh in the open field, anything can happen,” said Hillcrest coach John Beckham.
Hillcrest was also in do-or-die mode on its previous drive. Trailing 28-24, the Hornets faced 3rd and 24 from the Rolla 27.
Parton eluded pressure and threw across his body toward the middle of the field and a wide open Laterrian Jarman. The 19-yard completion didn’t result in a first down, but it did give Hillcrest a manageable 4th and 5.
Hillcrest went deep into its playbook on the next play and called a halfback pass for Dion Davis. He found Tim Washington in the right corner of the endzone for an 8-yard touchdown pass that gave the Hornets a 32-28 lead with 4:05 remaining.
“Kids made plays,” Beckham said. “When we had to have a play, somebody made a play. We just made one more play than (Rolla) did.”
Hillcrest’s fourth-quarter charge helped the Hornets overcome a big night by Pritchett and multi-purpose back Blaize Klossner.
Pritchett was 25-for-36 for 248 yards and three touchdowns, but was also picked off three times by the Hillcrest defense. Klossner caught 13 passes for 147 yards and two touchdowns, and added 42 rushing yards and a rushing touchdown.
Hillcrest went 3-and-out on its first two drives. The Hornets trailed 14-0 until Powell’s 17-yard touchdown run early in the second quarter.
“It was one of those games that was great to watch if you’re a fan or don’t care who wins, but as a coach… whew,” Beckham said.
Hillcrest (5-3) closes the regular season next week at Joplin, which throttled Camdenton 49-7.
Rolla (4-4) hosts West Plains. The Bulldogs are seeking their first winning season since 2010.
Hillcrest 38, Rolla 34
Rolla 8 13 7 6 — 34
Hillcrest 0 16 8 14 — 38
Rolla – Klossner 5 catch from Pritchett (Pritchett run)
Rolla – Grooms 30 catch from Pritchett (kick failed)
Hillcrest – Powell 17 run (Washington catch)
Rolla – Klossner 3 run (PAT good)
Hillcrest – Davis 33 catch from Parton (Starks run)
Hillcrest – Starks 9 run (Davis run)
Rolla – Klossner 35 catch from Pritchett (PAT good)
Hillcrest – Washington 8 catch from Davis (Washington run)
Rolla – Pritchett 9 run (kick failed)
Hillcrest – Powell 31 catch from Parton (run failed)
STAT LEADERS (Unofficial)
Passing: Pritchett 25/36 for 248 yards, 3 TDs, 3 INTs
Rushing: Pritchett 16 carries for 114 yards, 1 TD; Klossner 11 carries for 42 yards, 1 TD
Receiving: Klossner 13 catches for 147 yards, 2 TDs; Grooms 5 catches for 60 yards, 1 TD; O’Neal 4 catches for 20 yards; Turner 2 catches for 19 yards; Alfred 1 catch for 7 yards
Passing: Parton 13-for-20 for 198 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT; Davis 1-for-1 for 8 yards, 1 TD
Rushing: Davis 18 carries for 62 yards; Powell 8 carries for 53 yards, 1 TD; Parton 5 carries for 33 yards; Starks 6 carries for 25 yards, 1 TD
Receiving: Powell 5 catches for 64 yards, 1 TD; Davis 3 catches for 58 yards, 1 TD; Cochran 2 catches for 47 yards; Jarman 2 catches for 11 yards; Starks 1 catch for 18 yards; Washington 1 catch for 8 yards, 1 TD