Hillsdale Beats Aragon 14-13 in the ‘Battle of the Fleas’

No one was really sure where Aragon’s 32-yard, game-winning, field-goal attempt went at the end of the “Battle of the Fleas” game against visiting Hillsdale.

Was it short? Wide left? Wide right?

The only ones who knew for sure were the referees and when they signaled the kick no good with 10 seconds left in the game, it set off a wild celebration as all the Knights had to do was line up in the victory formation, take a knee and revel in a 14-13 victory over the rival Dons Friday night.

“We like that score,” said Hillsdale head coach Mike Parodi. It was the same score by which the Knights beat Aragon in 2014, ending Hillsdale’s 23-year losing streak to the Dons.

“[This game] was apropos of our year,” Parodi continued. “We had to scrap all year.”

It was also appropriate that the game was essentially decided on the last drive of the game. Despite shooting themselves in the foot all game long, the Dons had the ball at the Hillsdale 36-yard line, 2:36 left in the game, no timeouts and trailing 14-13.

Aragon (2-8 overall) moved the ball down to the Knights’ 11 and faced second-and-10 with 23 seconds left. Quarterback Cam Grant lofted a fade pass to the corner of the end zone where Nane Pita made the grab, but the officials called him out of bounds. Grant tried to find Pita again and this time the Knights were there to break it up, thus forcing what was initially a 27-yard field goal attempt.

But in keeping with the theme for the Dons on the night, they committed a false start penalty before the snap, moving them back five yards and then misfired on the 32-yard attempt to seal the win for the Knights.

Aragon was penalized nine times for 80 yards.

“When I saw how they defended the run, I knew it would be tough sledding,” said Aragon head coach Steve Sell. “I thought we could hold them to two touchdowns and we would score three.”

A week after rushing for more than 400 yards, the Dons’ ground attack was pretty well grounded by the Hillsdale defense, holding Aragon to just 149 yards rushing. Paul Lautaimi, who went over the 200-yard mark against Menlo a week ago, was held to just 49 yards on 16 carries. Grant finished with 43 yards on 12 carries, while Gustaf Unga finished with 40 yards on just three carries.

“That was as stout a run defense we’ve faced since Terra Nova or M-A,” Sell said.

Lautaimi was responsible for both Aragon touchdowns — a 2-yard run on the opening drive and a 14-yard catch in the third quarter.

But as a sign of things to come, Aragon failed on the extra-point attempt following Lautaimi’s second score when it had only 10 men on the field and Hillsdale came hard off the edge to force the Dons kicker to try a weak pass attempt.

That failed attempt preserved a 14-13 Hillsdale lead with 5:15 left in the third period.

Not that things were much easier for Hillsdale (3-7), which ends the season on a three-game winning streak. Like Aragon, the Knights were reduced to using a running back as their starting quarterback and not unexpectedly, the Knights didn’t do a lot of passing.

They did, however, do a lot of running. Nate Iskander ran for a game-high 106 yards on 14 carries, while quarterback Quincy Sherman accounted for 90 yards on 18 carries as the Knights finished with 208 yards on the ground.

Both Iskander and Sherman also scored for Hillsdale.

“I knew it would be a struggle to move the ball,” Parodi said.

Aragon didn’t have too much trouble moving the ball on the opening drive of the game. Taking the opening kickoff and starting from their own 20, the Dons drove the length of the field on 10 plays.

There were two big plays on the drive: Grant hooked up with Pita for an 18-yard catch-and-run before Grant ripped off a 22-yard run down to the Hillsdale 15.

Three plays later, Lautaimi punched into the end zone from 2 yards out to give the Dons a 7-0 lead with 8:03 left in the opening quarter.

It looked like Aragon was in business again when the Knights fumbled the ball away on their first snap from scrimmage, but the Hillsdale defense held, forcing a punt.

The Knights took over at its own 5-yard with just over six minutes left in the first quarter. Twice the Aragon defense stopped the Knights on third down, only to twice be called personal foul penalties.

The second of which really cost the Dons because on the ensuing play — the first of the second quarter — Iskander took a handoff up the gut, got past the wash at the line of scrimmage and bolted the rest of the way untouched for a 46-yard score to tie the game at 7.

“That play was a little bit of an ad lib,” Parodi said.

It was still tied at 7-all when Hillsdale received the second-half kickoff and John Catanzarita went 77 yards for an apparent score — which was called back because of a holding call.

No matter. The Knights needed just three plays to find pay dirt. Facing a second-and-15 after a false start penalty, Sherman took the snap and did a little pirouette in the backfield before sweeping around the left end. With his blocking set up, Sherman took off down the left sideline and didn’t stop until he was in the end zone 64 yards later to give the Knights a 14-7 advantage — a lead they would not relinquish.

“That wasn’t the way we had it drawn up,” Parodi said. “[Sherman] put a little extra sauce on that.”

Aragon, meanwhile, spent most of the second half running in place as penalties always seemed to crop up at the worst time and stall out their drives.

They did manage to put one scoring drive together after recovering a Hillsdale fumble deep in the Knights’ end. On first down from the 14, Grant took a snap, rolled right, avoided one tackler and then lofted a pass to Lautaimi at the 5-yard line. He made a twisting, acrobatic catch to haul it in and flopped into the end zone for the Dons’ second score of the night.

The missed extra point, however, had Aragon playing catch-up the rest of the game.

“It came down to can we get some first downs and then can we pop one?,” Parodi said. “We were looking for that crease and we found two.”

 

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