By his own admission, Hildebrand put too much pressure on himself at the start of this season. He was coming off a breakout junior year, and the Minutemen were regarded as strong contenders in the West Jersey Football League American Division and South Jersey Group 5 races.
"I tried not to show it but I think the way I played [early in the season] did show it," Hildebrand said. "I just needed to relax. I was overthrowing people. I was pressing."
It's tough duty for a lot of seniors to fuse that loose, carefree mentality of their junior season with the urgency that is part of their final season. Hildebrand said he struggled with the balancing act.
"As a senior, it's your last year, you want to put up numbers," Hildebrand said. "You have to take the mentality that you have a lot more games to play and still realize these are your last games."
The 5-10, 175-pound Hildebrand looked like his 11th-grade self as Washington Township won its fourth in a row to improve to 4-1 and stay in the thick of the division race as well as the battle for postseason berths. He was 12 for 20 passing for 104 yards and two scores. He ran 16 times for 73 yards and another score.
Hildebrand also booted two extra points and completed a two-point conversion pass.
"He always has his teammates' backs," Washington Township junior Andrew O'Neill said of Hildebrand.
Cherokee (1-3) controlled play in the second half behind quarterback Trevor Osler (14 for 18 passing, 197 yards) and running back Matt Stickney (18 carries, 77 yards). The Chiefs scored 18 straight points and took an 18-15 lead on Stickney's 9-yard touchdown run and Osler's two-point conversion pass to Jake Powell with just 2:13 remaining in the game.
But O'Neill returned the ensuing kickoff 69 yards to the Cherokee 30. After a face-mask penalty, Hildebrand carried twice for the final 14 yards, scoring the game-winner from 5 yards out with 1:10 on the clock.
"I had no doubt we were going to come back," Hildebrand said. "It reminded me of baseball. Last year we had five walk-off wins. That's our mentality."
He was a junior last spring in baseball.
He felt like one again in the fifth and finest football game of his senior year.
Washington Twp. 7 8 0 7 - 22
Cherokee 0 7 0 11 - 18
WT: Andrew O'Neill 10 pass from Tom Hildebrand (Hildebrand kick)
WT: John Williams 9 pass from Hildebrand (Matt Long pass from Hildebrand)
C: Trevor Osler 1 run (Ken Ravel kick)
C: FG Ravel 32
C: Matt Stickney 9 run (Jake Powell pass from Osler)
WT: Hildebrand 5 run (Hildebrand kick)
Contact staff writer Phil Anastasia at firstname.lastname@example.org or @PhilAnastasia on Twitter. Read his blog, Jersey Side Sports, at www.philly.com/jerseysidesports