HILL CITY — Hill City's first play from scrimmage served as foreshadowing in Friday's Eight-Man Division I playoff game against WaKeeney-Trego.
Dalen Journigan took his first carry 56 yards for a touchdown to start a common theme for the night.
The senior back dominated against the Golden Eagles from start to finish, accounting for seven touchdowns to carry Hill City to a 64-40 win for the Ringnecks' first playoff victory in a decade.
Journigan scored six touchdowns on the ground and also had a 50-yard TD on a screen pass. He finished with 289 yards on 29 carries.
“Dalen had a great game, but it doesn’t surprise me,” Hill City coach Travis Desbien said. “Ever since our starting quarterback Jayce (Hamel) went down, Dalen’s stepped up and he’s been the guy for us. These last five weeks we’ve rode him. He’s a great player, he’s a great teammate. He’s a senior and we’re just happy to see him succeed right now.”
Trego struck first on a 50-yard run from Hunter Price but Journigan had the quick answer. Journigan added a 1-yard TD in the second quarter and then scored on the screen from quarterback Derek Keith on a 3rd-and-20 play, making it 22-14 with 8:14 left before halftime.
"I had the confidence coming into this game," Journigan said. "I just knew we had to get the job done."
Trailing 30-14 at halftime, the Golden Eagles opened the second half with a rare defensive stop but couldn't take advantage on offense. Journigan then broke loose for a 60-yard run to make it a three-possession game again. Journigan would add a 45-yard TD late in the third before scoring from 53 and 25 yards out in the fourth.
“The kid is so good,” WaKeeney-Trego coach Pat Haxton said. “He hits the holes so fast. Half the time he was running by us before we even knew he had it."
Hill City (6-3) will face St. Francis (9-0) in the second round next Friday.
Desbien and Journigan said playing against a league rival added another element to the playoff opener. Hill City also won the Week 2 matchup against Trego, 33-18.
“Trego, MCL rival, every year we play these guys,” Desbien said. “They know us so well, we know them so well. We’re literally calling out their plays, and I know their guys know our stuff. We know they’re going to fight. It’s a rivalry between us and Trego every year we play them. Playing them twice, I was nervous. But we came out and had the fire tonight and we played a good game.”
"They like talking stuff, we like talking stuff. It was a fun game," Journigan said. "I liked matching up with them."
Ayden Nickelson added a 10-yard touchdown on the ground for the Ringnecks and Keith had a 3-yard rushing TD.
Price had a huge game to cap off a standout career for the Golden Eagles, finishing with 204 yards and four touchdowns on 20 carries. Trego junior quarterback Kobi Shubert completed 23 of 42 passes for 204 yards, with a touchdown to senior Carter Minson, who finished with 13 receptions for 144 yards.
“We know they have a really good passing game; Shubert’s a great passer,” Desbien said. “But honestly, Price, he scares me to death, he’s explosive; that’s the guy we were keying on this week."
Desbien said it meant "everything" for the program to notch its first playoff since 2009.
“We’re ecstatic right now," he said.
"I've been talking about (winning a playoff game) since my freshman year," Journigan said.
After falling behind 22 points on Journigan's 60-yard run in the third quarter, Trego would make it a two-possession game on three more occasions but couldn't get the deficit to single digits. Down 16, Trego had an opportunity to move within striking distance after a Hill City fumble with about eight minutes left. However, a fourth-down pass was broken up by Hill City freshman Kaleb Atkins to end the threat.
"Every time we’d get close, they’d make a big play and break it back open," Haxton said. "But I'm proud of the way we played, I'm proud of the seniors, great seniors. Proud of the season, just wish it could've turned out better in the end."
Desbien said the Ringnecks will embrace the challenge of facing St. Francis next week.
“St. Francis is great; they’re one of the best teams in the state,” Desbien said. “With that being said, Hoxie played them to a two-point game. I told the guys that they are absolutely beatable; I really believe that. They’re good at what they do, they’re well-coached, but they’re beatable. We’re going to work all week and try to stop what they do.”