HARTFORD — It’s the clutch plays in all facets that matter most in close rivalry games.
Hartford Union came up big to open the game and in the fourth quarter on special teams, defense and offense. Two key interceptions by the Orioles in the final quarter set up the go-ahead score and sealed a 21-14 North Shore Conference victory over rival Slinger to open the season Friday.
“Especially early on in the season, you try to be as consistent as you can with your techniques,” Hartford coach John Redders said. “We were just able to bounce back. They’re determined that they’re not going to let things get them down and took the next play in stride. We were pretty happy that we were able to be consistent even though we made a few mistakes tonight.”
The Orioles began the game emphatically. Junior wide receiver Casey Justman received the opening kickoff at the 6-yard line, found
a crease and was off to the races down the left side for a 94-yard return for a touchdown to give Hartford a 7-0 advantage.
“I was just trusting my teammates and their blocks,” Justman said. “The door opened up and I just followed where they blocked.”
Redders added, “We really emphasize special teams in our program. Casey is one of those guys that people didn’t see a lot — he surprised a few people with how fast he was — got after it, found the seam and got going.”
Slinger eventually tied the game in the second half following the second interception that set its offense up beautifully. Junior linebacker Derek Wiest picked off a pass over the middle and took it to the Hartford 2-yard line. From there, senior running back Travis Dufour scored to even the score with just over nine minutes to play in the game.
The home squad seized momentum for good roughly five minutes later. Junior defensive back Jackson Hilvers jumped an out route near the Orioles’ sideline for a diving interception at the Hartford 45. On the ensuing play, senior quarterback Jacob Frantl found a wide open Justman on the left side who sprinted for a 43-yard reception to the red zone.
“I thought our defense played great, but the one big play they got, that was a mental mistake,” Slinger coach Bill Jacklin said. “One of our guys; we were in man coverage, and he went to zone coverage. Did they physically beat us on that play? No, but we mentally gave up that play.”
From there, sophomore running back Dylan Chivas bulldozed through the line for a 12-yard touchdown run, his second of the game, to produce the final score.
Chivas said of the run, “I just followed the blocks. Nothing was me. It was all the blockers, all line. Great game for the O-line. I just followed them and went in.”
Hartford sealed the game on a highlight reel, one-handed interception over the middle by senior linebacker Cade Jenders with 39 seconds to play.
“We played an awful mental game,” Jacklin said. “People watching wouldn’t know, but there were a lot of mental mistakes in our game and we’re going to have to clean that up. It’s very disappointing because I felt physically we were doing well, but we killed ourselves by just not doing things right that we’re supposed to.”
Slinger started well and advanced into Hartford territory on the drive following Justman’s return to open the game, but its drive stalled and resulted in a punt. However, the Owls’ defense got the ball back right away when senior running back/defensive back Andrew Beine intercepted a pass on the Orioles’ first play following the punt at the Hartford 37-yard line.
Slinger’s offense took full advantage of the great field position. Senior quarterback Logan Homberg burst for a 9yard run before coming up clutch with a fourth-down, 22-yard pass to senior receiver Connor Goodwin to get the Owls into the red zone. Homberg eventually finished the drive with a 4-yard touchdown scamper.
Hartford senior quarterback Jacob Frantl found his rhythm on the next drive, completing six passes, including three to senior wide receiver Mason Moser. However, the sixth completion resulted in another turnover when junior receiver/tight end Jadon Melvin fumbled at the Slinger 26.
Both teams traded punts on the next two possessions. The Owls then stalled but the Orioles were called for pass interference to keep the drive going. Slinger used a 24-yard pass from Homberg to sophomore wide receiver/ kicker Ayden Dautermann to help itself get into the red zone, but a false start and Hartford sack forced a 46-yard field goal attempt that fell short.
“Right now, our offensive line, technique- wise, is not getting it done,” Jacklin said. “It’s going to change this week. It needs to change. If they’re going to continue to do that, we’ve got to find new people. We’re going to have to work on fundamentals.”
“Those are the kinds of guys that are keeping that tempo going, keeping the enthusiasm at a high, but in check,” said Redders of his defensive line. “I think that’s important. They’ve got so much grit. They just make up their minds that they want to keep at it and they’re going to do whatever they can to get their goals.”
Frantl hit on two big passes in the final 19 seconds to junior running back Brock Bingen and
Melvin that put Hartford in the red zone, but the game reached halftime after the 37-yard pass to Melvin.
HARTFORD UNION 21, SLINGER 14
Slinger………………………………………..7 0 0 7 — 14
Hartford Union…………………………….7 0 7 7 — 21
Scoring First Quarter HAR: Casey Justman 94-yard kickoff return (Andrew Arndt kick), 11:52
SLI: Logan Homberg 8-yard run (Cameron Groves kick), 1:46
Third Quarter HAR: Dylan Chivas 2-yard run (Arndt kick), 8:22 Fourth Quarter SLI: Travis Dufour 2-yard run (Groves kick), 9:20 HAR: Chivas 12-yard run (Arndt kick), 3:07