By DOUG ZALESKI
Austin Hill had one of those special feelings that athletes get when something is about to go right.
Yorktown’s football team came out of its locker room Friday night holding a comfortable 28-point lead against Greenfield-Central. As Hill positioned himself inside the 10-yard line to field the second-half kickoff, he had a message for two of his teammates.
“I’m going to house this,” Hill said to MiLon McCowan and Walker Moore.
True to his word, Hill fielded the kickoff and returned it 90 yards to the end zone for a touchdown that started a running clock in the second half. The play helped the Tigers bounce Greenfield-Central 42-6 in a Hoosier Heritage Conference game.
“I have full confidence in the guys blocking for me,” Hill said. “MiLon McCowan said, ‘follow me,’ and Walker said, ‘follow me.’ When I hear that, I have full confidence in them knowing they’re going to get their job done.
“My guys allow me to do the things I do. We have a pretty good connection throughout our team. … We know each other’s capabilities and we trust what each other is going to do.”
Hill, his teammates and the Yorktown coaching staff exhibited a high level of energy and enthusiasm throughout the game, something that was missing in its first couple of games.
Those qualities are in abundant supply now, helping the Tigers to a three-game winning streak for the first time since 2014.
“We put it on the seniors,” Tigers coach Mike Wilhelm said of the team’s energy. “We said, ‘the attitude we bring every night is on you.’ It was a challenge, but it wasn’t a negative challenge.
“You can’t roll into games not expecting to have fun, and I think this team has taken that to heart.”
Hill and fellow senior Reid Neal were two of the catalysts for Yorktown (5-2, 3-2 HHC) in the win against Greenfield-Central (1-6, 1-4 HHC).
Hill, a Ball State recruit, caught a 22-yard touchdown and intercepted a pass that set up a touchdown in addition to his long kickoff return.
Neal, who has a scholarship offer from the University of North Dakota, continued his strong play with three touchdown passes and a 2-yard TD run. Besides passing to Hill for a score, Neal passed 8 yards to Moore and 7 yards to McCowan.
Neal said the team’s fun attitude has happened naturally.
“Everyone is getting more into the season,” he said. “Everyone realizes it’s a brotherhood out here. Week by week people are running up and down the sideline screaming.”
Neal got off to a slow start this season with a handful of interceptions early, but he said he focused on simply moving forward and forgetting the past.
“He’s very comfortable with the offense,” Wilhelm said. “Since the Muncie Central game (Aug. 30), he’s been in a rhythm. There’s nothing magical about it. It’s the hard work he puts in.”
Yorktown’s defense put in plenty of hard work the past two weeks. The Tigers shut out Shelbyville last week and just missed blanking Greenfield-Central when the second unit allowed a TD with 47 seconds to play.
The impressive part about the performance against the Cougars was it came against a team that runs the wishbone offense. Few teams employ that style, so it’s always difficult to prepare to defend it with just a week of practice.
“Coach said all week we had to trust our keys,” said Hill, who also plays safety. “Guys bought in 110 percent, and we played good assignment football.”
The biggest challenge is getting the scout team up to speed to try to replicate the option in practice.
“Our guys (on defense) took control of their positions, their gaps, like we haven’t seen all year,” Wilhelm said.
That starts up front, and Yorktown’s defensive line and front seven were strong.
Wilhelm said Galen Tait, who played a 1-technique at defensive tackle, had “an outstanding game. He penetrated their line, took on blocks, ran down the line. He made plays all night.”
Caleb Howell had a good performance at defensive end and Tyson Enis had several tackles for loss. Inside linebacker Justin Wales scooped up a fumble and scored on an 11-yard return in the third quarter.
“These are guys who don’t get a lot of accolades ever, but with (an opponent) like this that runs the wishbone, you have to control the front, and we did that,” Wilhelm said.
Yorktown will play its final home regular season game next Friday against Pendleton Heights (4-3, 3-2 HHC), which handed Delta its first loss of the season Friday night.