Thanksgiving travelers commuting along Route 108 in Clarksville this Friday night will notice a familiar sight in the River Hill High stadium: a football game.
For the fifth time in the last seven years, River Hill will play host to a state semifinal, as the Hawks of Urbana visit the Hawks of River Hill Friday evening at 7 p.m.
"We get to practice on Thanksgiving and we have an alumni breakfast," coach Brian Van Deusen said. "It's a neat tradition that hopefully we'll keep going for years to come."
Read on for a Thanksgiving dinner of statistics, player info, history, and quotes from the coaches, and then come out to the game on Friday night!
U: Ryan Hines, 3rd season (28-7, .800)
RH: Brian Van Deusen, 13th season (135-23, .854)
What they're saying
Urbana coach Ryan Hines
On any carryover from Urbana's 2010 4A state championship team:
"Most of those kids who were on that team are gone. There are a couple of tenth grade kids that came up and played in the game. They have the memory of what it was but they weren't really factors in it. It's a completely different team, completely different look ... Kevin Bettis, our middle linebacker was actually on that team all year, he was a contributor."
On having a sophomore at starting tailback (Raekwon Gray) and quarterback (Donovan Pannell):
"Rae is quick, he's strong, he's got all of the tools of a great running back. He's been a playmaker for us, especially last week against Seneca Valley (26-17 in the 3A West regional final). We really leaned on him and he took control of the game in the second half ... Our quarterback Donovan Pannell is (also) a sophomore. We're real fortunate there if we can develop some linemen coming up in the next couple years those guys will have great junior and senior years, because they've had pretty stellar sophomore years."
On his team's run/pass balance on offense:
"We have weapons that we can utilize at tight end, receiver and running back, so it's kind of look-and-see what the defense is going to give us. If they're going to allow us to throw, we'll throw. If they're going to allow us to run, we'll run. That's been our philosophy all year."
On sharing a college football alma mater, McDaniel (Western Maryland), with Van Deusen:
"Me and Brian know each other. We both went to McDaniel, he left the year before I came in so we've had a good relationship back and forth. We exchanged some playoff film and some regular season film (through Hudl), seeing these guys on film they're pretty talented ... he graduated '96 and I started playing '96. We were talking about it today, how McDaniel did this year and the coaching changes."
(Van Deusen still holds school records with 621 career completions and 7239 passing yards, and Hines earned All-America honors in 1998)
On what he noticed about River Hill on film:
"The pressure their defense puts on. Everybody looks at them and says 'Well they're an offensive team and they're scoring all these points,' but they also have six shut outs. Their defense is pretty stout, they're constantly running to the ball and pursuing. It's going to be a battle for us offensively to find some seams and be able to run the ball because they're so quick and strong. Last couple games we've played, we've played teams that were bigger than us. Size-wise I think we're both about the same so it's just going to come down to quickness and strength, the guys they have up front look like they're pretty strong ... On the other side of the ball offensively they have so many weapons with #5 (Justin Arn), #3 (Evan Griffin), #1 (Stephan Osong), the quarterback (Austin Altman) throwing the ball. It's just a matter of you can't pick one thing to try to shut it down, you have to defend everything. It makes them tough to defend."
On his team being battle-tested after starting the season 3-3 before winning six straight:
"I would hope so. Two of the teams we lost to (Westminster in the 4A and Middletown in the 2A), their guys are sitting in here (in the state semifinals), both of them undefeated. And the third team we lost to (Walkersville) would be sitting here if they didn't have to play each other. We've played some tough teams and we've played teams that do a lot of different things. Our league is basically an I (formation league). But we played some spread teams, we scrimmaged Atholton to start the year off, seeing that big variety of different styles helps us."
On the prospect of advancing to play the winner of Milford Mill/Huntingtown in the 3A state championship on Thursday night, Nov. 29:
"Less time to be nervous. If you could just be done Friday night and you win you turn around and play again Monday, that'd be great. By week 14 how much time can you actually spend doing fundamentals? And the kids have been going since Aug. 11. You're trying to keep them fresh and not wear their legs down."
On playing the day after Thanksgiving:
"I'm hoping there will be a big crowd, good atmosphere. It's the Hawk bowl. I know the Hawks are going to win ... when we set our goals up for our kids at the beginning of the year, one of our goals is always to practice on Thanksgiving. We invite all the alumni back and have a big open practice. It's a great atmosphere to practice on Thanksgiving and I'm glad our seniors got a chance to do it."
River Hill coach Brian Van Deusen
On having graduated from McDaniel (Western Maryland) one season before Hines began playing there:
"He coached for several years there (as lines coach and offensive coordinator) before he went to Walkersville (for five years) and he eventually ended up at Urbana, so we know each other. Actually when we coached the Crab Bowl (All-Star game) we brought Ryan on to call the defense so we've worked together before too."
On Urbana's tough schedule and 3-3 start to the season:
"They're a very well coached, good team. They've had as tough a schedule as anybody. To play Westminster early on, they played Middletown (both undefeated and in the state semifinals), Walkersville, and then to go through that 3A West region — Damascus and Seneca Valley — they're certainly getting tested and they've come out on top and won the last six, so its gonna be a very tough test for us."
On getting a scare as Atholton scored 20 points in the last three minutes of their 35-27 regional championship win:
"Just maybe a wake up call there. We had things going pretty good and we were able to rest some kids, but then just a play here or there and an onside kick and anything can happen. That'll keep the kids focused as we go each day this week and work on getting better ... It would have been a little too exciting if they had got that next onside kick. Fortunately they missed the extra point. If we were only up seven, and then they got that, I know they would have gone for two. I knew if we got the onside kick we'd be able to run it out because we had been moving the ball up and down the field. It was just a couple turnovers that we had there late."
On not having any history with Urbana, scouting them via film:
"Never played them, never scrimmaged them, so it'll be a new test. Fortunately we played some teams similar to what they run. They're mostly an I (formation) team. They do a lot of double tight (ends), they've got very good tight ends. A lot of slot-I, pro-I, so similar to what you see from Hammond and Glenelg, and even Mt. Hebron ran some I's. There are probably four teams in our county that run something similar to them, so in that sense at least we've got some tape and we've seen it before ... defensively they're more of a 40 team, and we've seen that a little bit. But they're very good, very quick defensively, solid tacklers. Beating Damascus and Seneca Valley, and holding them down, there's two powerful offenses. They've done a nice job."
On Urbana's personnel:
"Quarterback (Donovan Pannell's) only a sophomore and the tailback (Raekwon Gray) is a sophomore. They've got the tight end, No. 5 (Brendan Wharton), and the split end No. 10 (Darren Ambush) who are a couple of their seniors, providing leadership and making big plays for them as well."
On playing a non-Howard County team for the first time this season after 12 games:
"It's exciting to get outside the county and get into some different teams. Frederick County has always been very good in football and they beat the Montgomery County teams, but it's nice knowing that they really haven't seen anybody that runs our offense ... what happens in Howard County is that over the years we've been running this and even our defense, a lot of the other teams in the county have started doing some of the stuff. So not only are they playing us every year but they're seeing some of these other teams, so they're seeing it three or four times a year."
On adding wrinkles to the Hawks' deceptive offense to keep opponents off balance:
"We've got to add stuff every year and change some things up, and we kind of do that based on our personnel. Obviously this year we're throwing the ball more than we ever have. You try to go with your strengths and adjust, and that's the nice thing about what we've come up with offensively and defensively. We're pretty flexible, we can feature certain players, certain pass plays, based on our talent that year. This year we were able to open up the pass game a little bit (behind record breaking QB Austin Altman), so that's been nice."
On how this year's team compares to last year's state championship team:
"Last year we lost the two games early and that was a wake up call. But also going along with that we were banged up with our superstar running back out, Aaron Wells, and a couple of other key guys. The big thing last year was just getting healthy and getting refocused and we got on a roll ... This year we've fortunately played pretty well in every game, we haven't had as many of the turnovers and mistakes that we did last year ... fortunately we've been tested sometimes. We had some close games with Glenelg and at the end with Atholton, and the guys have reacted well and made the plays when they needed to. So hopefully we'll keep that going."
On the prospect of playing a state championship game on a Thursday night, Nov. 29, against the winner of Milford Mill/Huntingtown:
"That would be different. We've never really played on a Thursday night, so that would be a lot of work to cram into three practices. We'll figure that out (if we get there), and hopefully we'll have the opportunity."
U: 50 — 17 seniors, 22 juniors (#18 DB Patrick Coffey, #56 OL/DL Andrew Thomas, #22 DB Brandon Plante), 11 sophomores (#21 RB Raekwon Gray, #2 QB Donovan Pannell)
RH: 40 — 17 seniors, 22 juniors (#37 TE/LB Cory Daniel, #47 K Alex Potocko, #50 NG/T Logan Kirby, #52 DE/G Anthony Corrao), 1 sophomore (#34 LB/RB Brian Kirby)
2012 point differential
U: 312-168 (4 shutouts)
RH: 553-117 (6 shutouts)
U: #2 Donovan Pannell (72/169, 42.6 PCT, 1,303 YDS, 10 TD, 9 INT)
RH: #9 Austin Altman (98/147, 66.7 PCT, 2,113 YDS, 26 TD, 8 INT)*
*School record yards and TDs.
#21 Raekwon Gray (135 ATT, 908 YDS, 6.7 AVG, 16 TD)
#42 Mike Dunn (64 ATT, 412 YDS, 6.4 AVG, 3 TD)
#10 Darren Ambush (44 ATT, 392 YDS, 8.9 AVG, 2 TD)
#5 Justin Arn (92 ATT, 924 YDS, 10.0 AVG, 13 TD)
#3 Evan Griffin (83 ATT, 856 YDS, 10.3 AVG, 13 TD)
#1 Stephan Osong (75 ATT, 522 YDS, 7.0 AVG, 9 TD)
#5 Brendan Wharton (24 REC, 451 YDS, 18.8 AVG, 3 TD)
#10 Darren Ambush (18 REC, 354 YDS, 19.6 AVG, 2 TD)
#9 Cole Burdette (12 REC, 115 YDS, 10.5 AVG, 1 TD)
#2 Nick Ball (31 REC, 586 YDS, 18.9 AVG, 8 TD)
#3 Evan Griffin (27 REC, 588 YDS, 21.8 AVG, 7 TD)
Leading kickoff returner
U: #10 ATH Darren Ambush (7 RET, 224 YDS, 32.0 AVG, 1 TD)
RH: #3 RB Evan Griffin (11 RET, 241 YDS, 21.9 AVG, 1 TD)
Leading punt returner
U: #10 Darren Ambush (11 RET, 112 YDS, 10.2 AVG, 0 TD)
RH: #3 Evan Griffin (8 RET, 112 YDS, 14.0 AVG, 0 TD)
Leading place kicker
U: #9 Cole Burdette (1/2 FG, 21 LNG)
RH: #47 Alex Potocko (2/2 FG, 37 LNG)
U: #18 Patrick Coffey (25 PNT, 771 YDS, 30.8 AVG)
RH: #3 Evan Griffin (8 PNT, 321 YDS, 40.1 AVG)
#44 LB Kevin Bettis, 125
#5 LB Brendan Wharton, 96
#4 LB J.D. Baker, 94
#42 DL Mike Dunn, 70
#9 DE Cole Burdette, 51
#18 DB Patrick Coffey, 42
#56 DL Andrew Thomas, 39
#7 DB Mike Miller, 33
#23 DB Julio Giraldo, 32
#4 LB Nick Schanne, 104
#50 NG Logan Kirby, 85
#52 DE Anthony Corrao, 77
#24 LB Ryan Doyle, 77
#34 LB Brian Kirby, 73
#1 LB Stephan Osong, 69
#5 LB Justin Arn, 68
#3 DE Charlie Norris, 11
#9 DE Cole Burdette, 10 (17.5 TFL)
#52 DE Anthony Corrao, 7.5
#68 DE Justin Nestor, 6
#50 NG Logan Kirby, 6
#22 DB Brandon Plante, 5
#10 DB Darren Ambush, 3
#21 CB Noah Carter, 3
#10 LB Jason Park, 3 (3 TD)
U: 5' 11.4" (Tallest: 6'3" — #5 TE/LB Brendan Wharton, #70 OL Billy Harper, #78 OL Dustin Clipp, #81 WR Nathan Miller, #56 OL/DL Andrew Thomas, #61 OL Jimmy Green; Shortest: 5'8"— #17 ATH Gavin Hawkins, #51 OL Nick Blair-Messina)
RH: 5' 10.9" (Tallest: 6'5" — #76 T/DE Charlie Wilson; Shortest: 5'6" — #49 SE/CB Dominic Costabile)
U: 189 (Heaviest: 275 — #78 OL Dustin Clipp; Lightest: 165 — #17 ATH Gavin Hawkins, #22 DB Brandon Plante)
RH: 185.1 (Heaviest: 260 — #68 G/DE Justin Nestor; Lightest: 135 — #81 SE/CB Ethan Woo)
U: 13 (22-7), 1998-2001, 2003-2010, 2012
RH: 10 (22-6), 2003-2012
U: 6 (1998-2001, 2006, 2010)
RH: 6 (2005-2009, 2011)
U: 5 (1998-2001, 2010)
RH: 3 (2007-2008, 2011)