Fallston coach Dave Cesky said before Friday night's game that his team had to minimize its mistakes against a No. 15 North Harford team that likes to grind away time with its ground game.
The undefeated Cougars followed that game plan, especially early, and turned the ball over just once late in the fourth quarter. They also took advantage of six Hawks turnovers and held on for a 35-20 victory in Pylesville.
North Harford turned the ball over three times in the first half, and the Cougars converted twice. Senior wide receiver Ryan Umpleby scored the first three touchdowns — on two passes from quarterback John Hetterman and on a 54-yard interception return. Just after halftime, a Hawks fumble led to a Hetterman touchdown pass to Chris Rose for a 28-0 lead.
The Cougars dealt the Hawks their first loss to an Upper Chesapeake Bay Athletic Conference rival in two years. The Hawks (7-2, 4-1) had won 17 straight conference games. The win also gives the Cougars sole possession of first place in the UCBAC Chesapeake Division with one game left in the regular season.
For Fallston, the win finally took some of the sting off last year's 36-35 loss to North Harford, a game the Cougars led 14-0 before the Hawks won with a conversion in the final minute
"Last year, that was a heartbreaker," Umpleby said. "This year, we got a lot of turnovers which helped. We got the ball back, kept pounding on offense. It was a team effort the whole game."
The Hawks, defending champions in the Chesapeake Division, moved the ball 39 yards on the ground with their opening possession but fumbled the ball inside the Cougar's 20-yard line. After the recovery, Fallston marched 78 yards on 12 plays, capped by Hetterman's 17-yard touchdown pass to Umpleby with 50 seconds left in the quarter.
On the first play of the second quarter, Umpleby intercepted Hawks quarterback Ryan Stinar and ran 54 yards for the score. Less than six minutes after that, Umpleby got a jump on the North Harford defense and Hetterman hit him for an 83-yard touchdown and a 21-0 Cougars lead.
After Rose's 12-yard reception from Hetterman made it 28-0, the Hawks finally got on the board with a 1-yard Eric Bayer run with 5:04 left in the quarter. They turned the ball over again, but the Cougars' drive stalled after Sean Lewns' interception.
Josh Welsh scored on a 12-yard run to pull the Hawks within 28-12 with 5:54 left in the game. After Marc Badger's 2-yard touchdown run for Fallston, Stinar hit Bayer with a 17-yard touchdown strike, and Nick Warren's conversion run brought North Harford within 35-20 with 1:22 to go.
North Harford recovered the onside kick, but Cougars safety Bryan Jirsa ended any hope of a comeback by picking off his second pass of the night.
"Early on everything worked, except we fumbled the ball on the 8-yard line which changed the momentum of the entire game," North Harford coach Ken Brinkman said. "Second half, we move the ball at will and we fumble on the 10 yard line. We have two loses this year with 13 turnovers. You can't win if you're going to do that."
F 7 14 7 7 -- 35
NH 0 0 6 14 -- 20
F—Umpleby 17 pass from Hetterman (Eichelberger kick)
F—Umpleby 54 int. ret (Eichelberger kick)
F—Umpleby 83 pass from Hetterman (Eichelberger kick)
F—Rose 12 pass from Hetterman (Eichelberger kick)
NH—Bayer 1 run (kick blocked)
NH—Welsh 12 run (run failed)
F—Badger 2 run (Eichelberger kick)
NH—Bayer 17 pass from Stinar (Warren run)