When Reservoir travels to River Hill Friday night for the 3A East regional football championship game, it will have something on its side that it might not have had before on a trip to Clarksville: confidence.
Although the Gators have never beaten River Hill before, their 14-13 loss against the Hawks, coupled with their 34-13 win at Glenelg — Howard County's most dominant team this season — last week, gives them reason to believe they can win.
"We want River Hill, we want the rematch," said junior Craig Jones, who scored on a 50-yard run and a 50-yard interception return in the win over Glenelg. "We should have had that game (on Nov. 8) but there were too many turnovers."
After starting the season 1-2, Reservoir has won seven of its last eight, and is enjoying its best season in school history after making the playoffs for the first time last year. In each of the past four seasons Reservoir has either matched or improved on its win total from the year before.
"We've been getting better and better, working harder in practice, conditioning, and the scout team has been pushing us to the limit," Jones said.
With its disciplined offensive line — led by Jack Dudzinski, Max Hoffman, Jon Koh and tight end Austin Mitchell — and a running attack of 240-pound Avian White (more than 1,500 yards, 16 touchdowns), Jones (500 yards, 6 TDs) and quarterback Max Schuster (400 yards, 8 TDs), Reservoir has one of the most effective offenses in the league. And coach Bryan Cole says he might have a few tricks up his sleeve.
"We try to have a few wrinkles every game, and we had a few surprises for (Glenelg)," Cole said.
The Gators' defense had perhaps its best showing in last Friday's win over Glenelg, but it might face an even tougher test at River Hill.
Although River Hill has struggled at times this season, the Hawks appear to be getting healthy and hitting their stride at just the right time.
Running back Kalonji Moore, who has dealt with a nagging hip injury this season, looked explosive on a 65-yard touchdown run in the Hawks' 49-0 regional semifinal win over City College last week. And speedy defensive back Chris Galloway, who has missed the majority of this season, is also expected to be available against Reservoir.
"He's working his way in slowly but he's going to be a good effective weapon for us," said Tre Patterson, who has thrived on both offense and defense when his role increased because of injuries.
Both sides realize Friday night's regional championship game could come down to the fourth quarter again.
"We're just trying to get better at the right time, hopefully we're peaking," River Hill coach Brian Van Deusen said. "But it was a tough game two weeks ago, so we expect another tough game."