Friday night football is a staple of any high school football hotbed, but while the Hiland Hawks have never had what people see as a traditional football team with the pigskin and helmet-crushing action, the Hawks featured their own brand of Friday night futbol Aug. 31 when they hosted state power Mansfield Christian on the pitch for a soccer contest between two terrific small-school programs.
While the end-game numbers might have favored the Flames, the only number that mattered was in Hiland’s favor as the Hawks doled out a 3-0 defeat to the Flames.
Mansfield Christian outshot Hiland 12-6 and took five corner kicks to Hiland’s four, but Hiland keeper Brant Klink proved to be up to the task, playing a great game in goal to stymie the Flames at every turn.
The one weapon Mansfield Christian didn’t have and couldn’t stop was Hiland senior Declan Howell, who produced all three goals as he found multiple ways to sneak shots past Flames’ keeper Gavin Kiliany.
Howell’s first score came just 11 minutes into the contest when he took a throw-in pass from Brayden Gray and knocked home the opening score.
“It was a good read by Brady because Declan made a run and nobody went with him, and Brady just served it in there, and Declan punched it in,” Hiland coach Scott Bodiker said.
In the 27th minute Howell again found success, this time getting an assist from Tyler Schmucker on a nice passing play.
While every coach talks about how a 2-0 lead is dangerous because a score can suddenly make the game very exciting, Howell produced his third first-half goal, and it was a huge one because it gave the Hawks a much more comfortable cushion, and it took a lot of hope away from Mansfield Christian. Schmucker was again the guy who was able to find him, this time on a corner kick and slip, a picture-perfect pass that allowed the senior to hammer home the third score with less than three minutes to play. Those kinds of late-half goals are always big in games, and this one helped ice this one away for Hiland. From there the defense did its job to keep the Flames out of the net for 80 minutes.
“Brant has done a really solid job in goal for us, but our defense starts in the middle with Lakota Mast and Tyler Kline,” Bodiker said. “Defensively we have given up four goals in four games, and three of them came in our first game against Riverdale, where we just weren’t ready to play. Our defense has been a nice team effort all-around.”
Offensively Howell has been the mainstay for the Hawks, and Bodiker even redesigned the offense to get the talented senior more involved than he was last year.
“Declan had a pretty good sophomore year, and while he was good last year, I think we all expected him to take that huge next step, himself included,” Bodiker said of Howell. “We had him in a more defensive midfield position last year, and we wanted to get him more involved offensively, so we moved him up to more of a scoring mid.”
While Howell has scored a ton, he is far from the only weapon up front for the Hawks. Twins Chris and Pat Miller and Taylor Mullet all bring strong scoring options back to the field, and all have immense ball skills.
“I think over the years we have gotten a reputation as being a soccer team with really good athletes but not as much soccer skill,” Bodiker said. “This group is not quite as athletic, but their soccer skills are really good, which is new for us. I thought it was nice to see us score in three different ways because that is the kind of diversity we have on offense this year.”
Klink made six stops on goal for the Hawks, who improved to 3-0-1 on the season, while the Flames fell to 2-3.