The key for the Howard football team Friday night against visiting River Hill was to play against the team on the field, and not the one in the state record books.
"Sometimes when River Hill gets off the bus I've seen teams pack it in early, but our kids believed," said Howard coach Bruce Strunk, whose team beat the four-time state champion Hawks (7-2), 21-3, Friday night. "Our kids played well, they were up for the challenge."
Hammond defeated River Hill, 47-38, two weeks ago to end the Hawks 30-game winning streak. Then last week, Howard handled Hammond, 26-7.
"The big win last week over Hammond showed our kids it wasn't a fluke," Strunk said. "For the first time the kids were like 'It's not a big deal, it's just another team' and it's taken six years for our kids to feel that way ... River Hill has set the benchmark for the county with their state titles, so it's always good when you beat one of those programs."
Howard junior quarterback Kevin Sheahin completed five of his seven first half pass attempts for 153 yards and two touchdowns, to Justin Marsh (64 yards) and Neil Caruso (18). Malik Anderson caught a 31-yard pass and Kyle Walker had a 35-yard reception.
River Hill answered Caruso's touchdown reception with a 38-yard field goal by Alex Potocko, but the Lions extended the lead again just over a minute later on Sheahin's long strike to Marsh.
"Their secondary watching film during the week looked a little (susceptible)," Sheahin said. "We just wanted to spread the ball around tonight and come at their weaknesses."
River Hill got the ball to start the third quarter, but four second half turnovers thwarted any chance of a comeback. Howard junior Jamil Campbell made two interceptions, the second which set up a short Sheahin touchdown run; Kyle Walker recovered a fumble near midfield; and Christian Dargan intercepted a pass inside Howard's 15-yard line that allowed the Lions to kneel out the clock.
Campbell also had a 14-yard rush in the first half.
"Jamil had a great night. There was a little pressure on their quarterback and Jamil was where he needed to be. The pressure was there and forced their quarterback to throw it, and that's football," Strunk said.
Howard only threw one pass in the second half, and it was intercepted at the line of scrimmage by Brian Kirby.
Kalonji Moore led the Hawks offense with 17 carries for 106 yards. Tre Patterson rushed for 13 yards and caught three passes for 44 yards. Jon Kanda caught three passes for 39 yards, but also had nine incomplete passes thrown his way.
Howard's Terrell Charles rushed for 140 yards, including 86 in the second half, to help the Lions run down the clock in the second half.
"They outplayed us in all three phases, so give them credit. They'll go on into the 4A (North) playoffs now with that win," River Hill coach Brian Van Deusen said. "For us, we've been banged up. We've had the injury bug worse than we've ever had it ... we don't have the depth this year that we've had some other years."
In both losses this season, River Hill has fallen victim to the big pass play.
"That's something we've been working on and we did a great job last week against Oakland Mills," Van Deusen said. "This week we had some communication issues and left some guys open and we didn't play it the way we should have."
Running back Aiden Gelb left the game on crutches on Friday, while Cory Daniel (hand) and Logan Kirby (shoulder) were both limited after sustaining injuries.
"We've got to get better. It's not the end of the world. We win next week (against visiting Reservoir) we get into the (3A East) playoffs and anything can happen from there," Van Deusen said.
Howard's Zack Robinson made three tackles for loss in the game, including a 13-yard sack at the end of the third quarter, while River Hill's Joe Gillespie sacked Sheahin on fourth and long late in the fourth quarter to end Howard's final drive.
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