Nathan Mollat/Daily Journal
The Hillsdale defense had a tough time stopping Aragon fullback Patrick Pauni, who rushed for a game-high 191 yards â€" including an 80-yard touchdown run â€" on just 15 carries.
The Hillsdale football team has come agonizingly close to ending its 21-year losing streak to rival Aragon in the annual â€śBattle of the Fleasâ€ť to end each regular season.
In 2009, Hillsdale lost by only eight points, 34-26, and in 2010, Aragon won 20-10.
Friday night at Hillsdale, the Knights got as close as theyâ€™ve been since winning in 1991 â€”Â only to fall short once again, 43-41.
The game was decided until the final minute, when the Dons fell on an onside kick after the Knights cut their deficit to just two points with 44 seconds left to play.
â€śI would have been shocked if we won this game by more than seven points,â€ť said Aragon coach Steve Sell. â€ś[Hillsdale is] good. If we play them 10 times, I think we split five times.
â€śIâ€™m just shocked we made as many plays as we did.â€ť
In the final analysis, it was the Donsâ€™ ability to make big plays that spelled the difference. Aragon (7-3 overall) scored on plays of 78, 80, 64 and 27 yards on offense. On defense, the Dons came away with three interceptions, including one that was returned for a touchdown.
â€ś[The big play] is something we havenâ€™t had all year,â€ť Sell said. â€śYou can count on one hand how many plays we had of 40 yards or more this year.â€ť
Those big plays were just too many for Hillsdale (7-3) to overcome. The loss also snapped a five-game winning streak for the Knights.
â€śWhen youâ€™re playing against a quality team, you canâ€™t give them extra opportunities. And they capitalized,â€ť said Hillsdale coach Mike Parodi, choking back tears. â€śAt some point, you have to make quality plays.â€ť
Aragon fullback Patrick Pauni led the way for the Dons, rushing for 191 yards and a touchdown on just 15 carries. Making his performance that much more heroic was the fact he missed practice all week with an illness.
â€śHeâ€™s been on bed rest all week,â€ť Sell said. â€śHeâ€™s been sick as a dog. Just very courageous.â€ť
Halfback Keith Samujh also had a big game, rushing for 159 yards and scoring twice on 16 carries.
All told, Aragon finished with 522 yards of offense.
Hillsdale got 116 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 23 carries from running back Giancarlo Boscacci. Quarterback Cole Carrithers completed 14 of 34 passes for 248 yards and three touchdowns. Shawn Charan caught four passes for 76 yards and a pair of scores, while John Paran made three catches for 84 yards and a touchdown. The Knights amassed 443 yards of offense.
Hillsdale, which trailed 29-27 at halftime, just could never get over the hump in the second half. After Aragon forced Hillsdale to punt on its first possession of the third quarter, the Dons needed just two plays to push their lead to 36-27 when Samujh ripped off a 64-yard touchdown run.
Hillsdale got the score back on a Boscacci 1-yard run, a touchdown that was set up by a Paran 42-yard catch-and-run. But the Knightsâ€™ inability to stop the big play bit them again when the Dons, on their next possession, got a 27-yard touchdown run from Samujh to put the Dons up 43-34 with 8:24 left to play.
Hillsdale had its chances, but saw a prime opportunity go by the board when Tyee Stokman intercepted a pass in the end zone with 5:11 to play.
The Dons drove down to the Hillsdale 15-yard line before turning the ball over on downs. The Knights took advantage, driving 85 yards a score â€”Â a Carrithers 11-yard scoring strike to Charan with under a minute to play.
Hillsdale came out firing to start the game. After stuffing Aragon on three straight plays to start the game and forcing a punt, the Knights offense took over and went 45 yards on four plays. A 30-yard pass to Brandon Butcher moved the ball to the Aragon 17 before Carrithers found Charan in the corner of the end zone for a 7-0 lead.
Aragon came right back, driving 87 yards on nine plays to tie the score at 7 on a Devin Grant 3-yard run.
Hillsdale moved ahead 14-7 on a Carrithers 1-yard sneak, but Aragon got a 78-yard, catch-and-run from Nat Blood to Kono Filimoehala-Egan and then a 39-yard field goal from German Perez Meza for a 17-14 lead.
The Dons increased it to 23-14 when Jose Ledesma returned an interception 30 yards, but Hillsdale rebounded. The Knights got a 50-yard kickoff return from Salvador Hernandez to set up a four-play scoring drive, when Carrithers hit Paran for a 14-yard score.
But it was short-lived momentum as Pauni ripped off an 80-yard touchdown run on the next play from scrimmage to put Aragon up 29-21.
Hillsdale wasnâ€™t done, however, as Boscacci scored on a 20-yard scamper with just over a minute remaining in the half to get Hillsdale to 29-27 at halftime.
All told, the teams combined for 42 second-quarter points.
â€śWin or lose, it doesnâ€™t matter by how many points, it stings,â€ť Parodi said. â€śWe werenâ€™t as prepared as we should have been.â€ť