River Hill football coach Brian Van Deusen said he was embarrassed after last year’s losses to Glenelg. After falling to their rival, 49-7, in the second week of the regular season, the teams met again in the 3A East regional championship game. The result was nearly as embarrassing: a 38-7 defeat to end the Hawks’ season.
They had to wait nearly an entire year to strap up and work to avenge that loss, but on Friday night in front of a home crowd of 1,200 people, River Hill was ready.
“I think the motivation was that they handled us. We couldn’t stop them and we couldn’t do anything offensively,” Van Deusen said. “For us to play that well at the end of the regular season last year and kind of get blown out was a big disappointment. So we’ve been looking forward to this.”
The Hawks needed just two plays to go 99 yards and take a 7-0 lead, and they never looked back, as they shutout Glenelg, 20-0, for the first time since a 35-0 victory on October 9, 2009. Beau Brade intercepted two passes to lead a defense that held last year’s Howard County Offensive Player of the Year Wande Owens, who ran for 182 and 211 yards in the two games a year ago, to 67 yards rushing on 25 carries.
River Hill, which locked up a playoff spot last week and earned its fourth shutout of the season, improves to 8-0 with the win and moves closer to a county title and clinching home-field advantage in the 2A South region playoffs.
The Gladiators, meanwhile, have a bye in Week 10 and finish the regular season 6-3. They could earn the No. 4 seed and travel back to Clarksville in the regional semifinals.
“They came out and played their butts off,” Van Deusen said. “The defense was flying around Glenelg is a very good team. There’s a good chance we play them again in the playoffs and Wande is one of the best players in the state, so I was happy with how we played defensively.”
After Brade intercepted a pass at the 1-yard line to stall Glenelg’s opening 14-play drive, a short run and a Gladiators penalty gave River Hill a first down at its own 20. Running back Austin Abraham raced down the right sideline and scored on the next play to set the tone in a game that the Hawks controlled with their running game.
Abraham, running back/quarterback Brett Shaw, wide receiver Brendan McKenna and quarterback Luke Champion combined to rush for 228 yards on 41 carries. Champion was 6-for-10 passing for 81 yards, while Shaw, who was the Hawks’ No. 1 quarterback entering before tearing his ACL playing lacrosse in 2016, completed an 18-yard pass and ran for 37 yards on 11 carries.
“We were just fired up today,” said Abraham, who led the way with 138 yards rushing on 13 carries. “We had some great blocks on that play and it’s just my guys giving 100 percent every play. We did that great today. We came in focused and did our thing.”
The Gladiators moved the ball well again on their next possession, picking up four first downs and quarterback Tyler Reiff completing all four of his pass attempts for 31 yards. But Reiff went down awkwardly at the Hawks’ 22-yard line on a first-down run on the second play of the second quarter and did not return, and the momentum shifted for good.
His teammates consoled their signal caller, who was visibly upset on the Glenelg sideline with his left knee heavily wrapped, and Glenelg punted, turned it over on downs or threw and interception on their next six drives after failing to capitalize on their early second-quarter possession.
“Tyler has been doing a tremendous job and losing him really hurt us,” Gladiators coach Butch Schaffer said. “We had to go to our backup plan and, hey, you’ve got to give them credit. ... He’s one of our emotional leaders and that’s pretty apparent and obvious. I’m hoping the best for him right now and hopefully he’ll be fine.”
River Hill followed with a 16-play drive that took 6 minutes, 34 seconds off the clock. It moved the chains six times and five different players either ran or caught a pass in an 84-yard possession that McKenna capped with a 14-yard touchdown run to extend the lead to 14-0 before the break.
Neither team managed much offensively until River Hill stopped Glenelg on fourth down at its own 17-yard line midway through the fourth quarter. The Hawks took advantage of the short field and made it 20-0 after Champion’s 23-yard touchdown pass to Abraham.
Now, Glenelg must wait to see how things shake out among the teams battling for the final playoff spot.
“We put ourselves in this situation and no one else did,” Schaffer said. “We’ll see how the cards fall and we’ll see where we end up. It’s very likely we could be up here again. If you’re going to play someone I’d rather play River Hill. It’s a great rivalry and a great atmosphere. We’ll look forward to the challenge and hopefully we get better.”
River Hill (8-0) — 7 7 0 6 — 20
Glenelg (6-3) — 0 0 0 0 — 0
RH: Austin Abraham 80-yard run, Cooper McGeehan kick [7-0]
RH: Brendan McKenna 14-yard run, McGeehan kick [14-0]
RH: Luke Champion 23-yard pass to Abraham, kick failed [20-0]