COOKEVILLE – Hillsboro received a taste of its own medicine in Friday night’s Class 5A championship game against Knoxville West.
After beating up on their first four playoff opponents — outscoring Kenwood, Springfield, Shelbyville and Ridgeway by a combined 173-35 — the Burros were thumped by the Rebels, suffering a 23-6 defeat at Tennessee Tech’s Tucker Stadium.
“It was a hard-fought battle, but they were better than us tonight,” Hillsboro senior All-American Kyle Phillips said. “We have to give them props. Maybe another night we could have beat them, but tonight they were just better than us.”
Hillsboro (14-1), making its first state championship appearance since 2008, simply didn’t have an answer for West’s running game, and, aside from a long second-quarter score, the Rebels’ defense silenced an explosive Burros offense.
Hillsboro’s Javonta Peyton (6) intercepts a pass intended for Knoxville West’s Alex Burch (4) during the BlueCross Bowl Class 5A state championship game at Tennessee Tech in Cookeville on Friday.
Nathan Cottrell, the game’s Offensive MVP, ran for 227 yards and two touchdowns for the Rebels (14-1), and quarterback Seth Marshall added 113 yards and a score.
The Burros, on the other hand, managed just 76 yards on the ground, nine first downs and a season-low six points.
“This is not the way we’ve been playing,” Hillsboro coach Craig Clayton said. “I think the (rain) played a big factor, but overall I don’t think our kids quit. That’s the main thing. They could have quit earlier, but we still got after it pretty good.”
After a scoreless first quarter, Hillsboro’s Vincent Perry hauled in a short screen pass from quarterback Michael Hughes, and the 5-foot-11, 165-pound Tennessee commit split two West defenders before sprinting 41 yards for a touchdown with 6:04 remaining in the second quarter.
The Rebels were quick to answer, though, and they never looked back.
Cottrell, who tallied 140 yards rushing in the first two quarters alone, broke free for a 47-yard touchdown run on the ensuing possession, racing down the sideline to spot the Rebels a 7-6 edge with 5:02 left in the second quarter.
The 5-11, 183-pound senior went right back to work on the next drive, too, ripping off a 46-yard run. Two plays later, the speedy Georgia Tech commit trotted into the end zone from 12 yards out, increasing West’s lead to 14-6 with 22 seconds remaining in the first half.
“It was tough,” Phillips said. “We haven’t seen an offense like that all year. They have a really good running back and a really good line. It was a test.”
Hillsboro picked up a pair of first downs on its first possession of the third quarter, but back-to-back sacks of Hughes derailed the drive, forcing a punt.
Minutes later, Marshall snuck into the end zone from three yards out, capping a five-play, 50-yard drive and stretching the lead to 21-6.
West’s final score of the game came from its defense. After pinning Hillsboro inside its own 5-yard line on Marshall’s 33-yard, third-quarter punt, the Rebels forced a safety.
Hillsboro’s Jonathan Young, who had 13 tackles, was named Defensive MVP.
“They got us tonight, but no regrets,” Phillips said. “I’m still proud of my team.”
Reach Michael Murphy at 615-259-8018 and on Twitter @Murph_TNsports.