Hiland had been using its defense to win games of late, but the Hawks erupted for five first-half goals en route to a 7-1 thrashing of the Valley Indians Saturday to claim the Div. III Eastern District championship at Holzer Field at Jackson High School's Alumni Stadium.
The win advances Hiland (13-3) to the Zanesville Regional Wednesday against Coshocton. Valley bows out at 15-2-1.
Grant Stutzman got the Hawks on the board early and that opened the floodgates.
Brennan Coil served a long ball into the Valley defensive end and Stutzman won the battle with Indians' goalie Scott Adkins and hammered in a shot on an empty net for a 1-0 lead at 35:04.
"Scoring that goal in the first five minutes was the key," Hiland coach Scott Bodiker said. "After that, we just kind of managed the game without getting any injuries. We got everybody in the game with plenty of minutes."
The Hawks made it 2-0 midway through the first half on a goal by Hunter Herrera, who knocked in a rebound of a Caleb Miller shot.
Less than two minutes later, it was 3-0 Hawks on a crisp cross from Cameron Stutzman to Trey Riggle in front of the goal. Riggle heeded it home and the rout was on.
Cole Reynolds made it 4-0 at 17:02, and Patrick Straits finished off a feed from Alec Mast to make it 5-0 at 7:42 of the first half.
The Indians got on the board when Brice Romanello headed a direct kick past Tyler Hochstetler with 3:36 remaining in the first half.
"We were a little disappointed to give up a goal," Bodiker said. "But, you win and you move on."
Hiland scored off the opening kickoff of the second half to make it 6-1 as Herrera found the back of the net off a feed from Grant Stutzman, who was dragged down in the box 10 minutes later and Reynolds iced the game with a penalty kick.
"With this new formation we run, a 4-3-3, I get up a lot more," Reynolds said of his scoring opportunity from his defender position. "I just happened to be in the right place at the right time on that first one. On the second one, Grant worked hard to earn a PK. I didn't hit it well, but it went in, so that's all that matters.
"It feels good to follow last year's senior class and come out and do the same thing they did," Reynolds added. "Our expectations are high."
The Hiland coach is looking forward to playing Coshocton on Wednesday with an eye on the next step, a rematch against Worthington Christian, the team that ended the season last year for the Hawks in the regional finals.
"All year long we've wanted another shot at Worthington," said Bodiker. "The guys have had a chip on their shoulders, feeling like something was taken away from us last year against them. The message is, if you want that opportunity, you've got to earn it. Now, we've still got one more to go before we get that chance, but the guys are really focussed.
"They want another shot at least to try against Worthington."
Beating Coshocton, though, is no gimmie.
"If we have something to prove against Worthington from last year, we also have something to prove against Coshocton from earlier this year," Bodiker added. "We played really poorly in that game, and were really fortunate at halftime to be tied. I thought we out-played them in the second half in that first game, but we really played bad in the first half."
The Hawks have been to districts 11 of the 13 years Bodiker has been coach at Hiland.
"Winning never gets old. Goal No. 1 is to achieve our ultimate goal, and it starts here," Bodiker said.
Valley coach Bill Hale commended the play of the Hawks.
"We knew they were a strong team and we knew our limitations," Hale said. "We played hard and played clean. I was proud of them."