Hereford footbal coach Steve Turnbaugh didn't need to tell his team what it needed to grab a spot in the postseason playoff picture after opening the season with three straight losses -- the first such streak of his illustrious 19-year career at his alma mater.
Running the table in the final seven games — including his last home game at the helm of his beloved Bulls in the regular season Nov. 1 against Owings Mills at 7 p.m. — would most likely give them a chance to qualify for the Class 2A North Region playoffs.
It also would allow Turnbaugh to retire from coaching the team he built practically from scratch into a county powerhouse with yet another playoff appearance on his résumé.
And because Hereford's margin for error means there can be no missteps along the way, its 56-16 drubbing of Western Tech (3-3) on the road Oct. 12 and its 70-0 pounding of Pikesville Thursday were crucial to what lies ahead.
Although Turnbaugh was happy with the wins, he wasn't getting all sentimental over his 184-37 career record since 1995.
"I haven't even thought about it," said Turnbaugh, who coached the Bulls to state football titles in 1997, 2001 and 2002 and is part of a coaching staff that has led an unprecedented six-year state title run in boys lacrosse. "But nothing would make my last year a storybook more than to be coaching my team in late November or December and have to get in the car and drive and coach the Baltimore Touchdown Club team."
Turnbaugh is the Metro head coach for the all-star game, which will be played Dec. 14.
"That's just a storybook fairy tale," he said. "If we run the table and finish 7-3, who knows what is going to happen?"
Through Oct. 17, the Bulls were tied for fifth in the regional standings with Patterson and Western Tech and trailed fourth-seeded Eastern Tech (4-2) for the final spot.
Those early losses, to reigning Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association B Conference champ St. Paul's and playoff regulars Milford Mill and Franklin, weren't totally unexpected.
"We had a lot of major, major injuries early, and it took some time, and we didn't have a creampuff schedule," Turnbaugh said.
Losing two-way starting lineman Tristan Ferris on the first play of the season, followed by senior quarterback Travis Bosley's trip to the season-ending list with Ferris, didn't help matters.
In their first three games, the Bulls were minus 11 in turnovers before claiming wins against Sparrows Point (28-14), Overlea (35-7), Western Tech and Pikesville.
Hereford piled up 403 yards of total offense against Western Tech and junior quarterback Gabe Ceribelli, who led the junior varsity last season, and his older brother, Adam, were the scoring stars.
Gabe ran for a touchdown and passed 32 yards to his brother for another score, and Adam rushed for 137 yards on six carries and two touchdowns (13 and 95 yards).
Hereford rushed for 324 yards behind an offensive line that included Turnbaugh's son, senior center Brock Turnbaugh, guards, Justin Klein and Jacob Covington and tackles Coby Nettleton and Jon Kurtz.
"It feels good to be back to .500 coming off the opening three losses," Gabe Ceribelli said after the Western Tech triumph. "Hopefully, we can get back over that hump and get a winning record."
Turnbaugh hopes the students and community can give them a lift.
"There were a lot of doubting people -- the school and the community -- when we were 0-3 and it was like, 'good thing Turnbaugh is retiring, man.' "
But the coach, whose son also plays linebacker and will attend Johns Hopkins University in the fall to play lacrosse, knew his team would turn it around.
He also knew it would take time after the team graduated players from a backfield that scored 38 touchdowns last year.
"We are getting better and we are seeing improvement, and that is the most important thing," Turnbaugh said.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun