Hill’s heroics lead Springfield past Bristol in AA semi

ERDENHEIM >> Springfield Twp senior Justin Hill is a terrific all-around athlete, the kind that can use his talent to fill in technical or experience shortcomings.
He’s the kind of guy that gets the “just a football player” tag, meaning he can so pretty much anything on the gridiron. Playing nearly every snap between quarterback, safety and special teams ace, Hill has plenty of chances to impact games.
Friday night proved no different as the senior threw two touchdowns, ran for another, recovered a special teams fumble and had the game-sealing interception as the Spartans topped visiting Bristol 26-12 in a District I Class AA semifinal.
“The kid’s a warrior,” Springfield coach Chris Shelly said. “We have to go through a gauntlet in the Suburban One (American) so we felt like when we got to playoffs we’d really have a shot at it. Give a lot of credit to that Bristol team, they’re young but they’re well coached and they fight.”
Indeed, it was a valiant effort for a Warriors team that has just five starting seniors and a first-year coaching staff that didn’t take over until late in the summer. Bristol pounded the ball on the ground and thanks to a dominant third quarter, had the Spartans on the ropes until a few key moments in the final period.
The Spartans are going back to the District I title game for the second straight year and it was thanks to the holdovers from last year’s team that they pulled off Friday’s win. Aside from Hill, Brett Righter, Ben Fisher, Nigel Fox and Sheir-Ron Whittaker played pivotal roles.
“We just kept pushing through,” Hill said. “It’s high school football, guys will start to get down on themselves but we’ve talking all season about not sad-sacking and our guys stepped up and did that tonight.”
Springfield marched right down the field and scored on the opening drive when Hill plunged in from a yard out. Bristol responded by putting together a nice drive of its own until Righter forced and recovered a fumble at the Spartan five to turn the ball over.
It was the first of three Warrior turnovers for the night .
“Uncharacteristically we made mistakes,” Bristol coach John Greiner said. “We had two fumbles all year and we had two fumbles in the game tonight that cost us. We moved the ball consistently on the ground, early on we moved the ball passing-wise. Credit to Springfield, they came out with a good plan and attacked us, which we expected.”
The Spartans also stuck to a ground-and-pound approach, with Fisher and Righter leading the way. The passing game took a huge hit last week when George Baughn tore an ACL against Plymouth-Whitemarsh, so the Spartans didn’t throw the ball until their final play of the first half.
Hill hit fellow senior captain Fox for a 20-yard TD and a 13-0 lead, which the Spartans would carry into the half when Bristol missed a 29-yard field goal at the horn.
The Warriors owned the third quarter, limiting Springfield to just eight plays and two of those being punts. Bristol finally got on the board when Daryl Mehn powered in from a yard out on the team’s second possession. On the first possession, Springfield had held pat at the goal line but couldn’t move the ball after taking over at its own one.
“They have great size, they got into their rhino sets, two-back heavy, and were just running the ball down our throats,” Shelly said. “I mixed up the fronts up and tried some different stuff defensively but it’s just about the kids having heart.
“Quite honestly, we were running out of answers. We made some key stops in some key spots.”
Bristol opted to go for two after both of its scores and each time, the Spartans stopped it. The Warriors sliced the lead down to one when Eli Moore scored on a two-yard run with 11:05 left. Then, Bristol kept building on its momentum by stopping Springfield on fourth down and taking over at their own 39-yard line.
“I couldn’t be more proud of my group,” Greiner said. “My coaching staff and I walked in four-and-a-half months ago and this is how far we got. We climbed back, played this team tough and still have Morrisville (on Thanksgiving) to go. Hopefully we can win on a .500 note and win six games. I told the seniors I couldn’t have asked for anything better.”
Another drive built up and quickly, the Warriors were at the Spartan 26 when Righter broke through on third down to drop tailback Eric Bell for a three-yard loss. On 4th-and-7, Fisher got into the backfield and sacked RJ Collins for a four-yard loss and more importantly, getting the ball back.
Two plays later, Springfield cashed in when Hill hit Whittaker for a 69-yard touchdown. The play pretty much summed up Hill’s night.
“I actually rolled out to the wrong side to tell you the truth,” Hill said. “I turned around and saw him and just let it it go. He made a play and scored a touchdown.”
Hill, a lefty, rolled to his right and somehow spotted Whittaker wide open on the far side of the field. Uncorking a bomb, the senior lofted one that Whittaker ran under, reeled in and ran the rest of the way untouched for the clinching score.
“I just trust in football instincts,” Hill said. “I never say I’m a quarterback, I’m just a football player. I just have to trust my instincts and my guys around me and they’ll make plays.”
Hill then rocketed down the field on the following kick and recovered a muffed kick by Bell, though Springfield fumbled and lost the ball the next play. There was one more defensive stand to make and the Spartans twice got to Collins sandwiched around a third down incompletion to take over on a short field.
Whittaker capped that off with a 16-yard touchdown run and Hill sealed the deal with an interception of Collins two plays later.
“It was nice to see our guys make some plays because we hadn’t been making them the last couple of weeks,” Shelly said. “Justin always makes big plays in big spots. And Sheir-Ron, he banged his ankle up a few weeks ago and is really just returning, we put it on Sheri-Ron to step up and he did. He had that fire in his eyes and really came on strong on both sides of the ball.”

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