COLUMBIA, MD — River Hill overcame five turnovers and multiple injured starters to hang on to a 20-18 victory at Hammond on Saturday.
Playing in front of their homecoming crowd, the Golden Bears (3-4) got a pair of interceptions from Clinton Harris, a strip by Pierre Sylvert that he returned 50 yards for a touchdown, and two more fumble recoveries that led to field goals by Nick Borsh.
Ultimately, though, it was a turnover by Hammond with 30 seconds left proved decisive.
Two plays after Harris caught a 35-yard pass from Andrew Comeau (3/10, 60 yards; 65 rushing yards) that put the Golden Bears on the 15-yard line, River Hill's Hank and Charlie McLaughlin recovered a botched snap to seal the victory for the Hawks (7-0).
"We lined up and we were expecting another jet (play), they were working on us on the outside," said senior linebacker Brian Kirby. "I thought the quarterback was changing the play, but I guess the center heard 'go' or 'hike', and the ball just goes out. Instincts, right away: go get the ball. Hank McLaughlin and Charlie McLaughlin saw it and pounced on it. Great job by them."
Hammond coach Justin Carey said that the plan was to run the ball to the middle of the field and call a timeout with less than 10 seconds remaining to set up the game winning field goal.
"We snapped the ball early, weird bounce, turnover. (It) hurts," said Carey, whose team lost to Marriotts Ridge, 14-10, last week. "It's been tough this year with these close games. Our kids are fighting through adversity. We know we can compete with anyone, we just have to finish. We will bounce back. I'm proud of the team for sticking together."
Charlie McLaughlin also intercepted a pass in the red zone in the third quarter.
Kirby, who caught a seven-yard touchdown pass from Noah Thyberg (7/14, 81 yards, 2 TD, 2 INT) in the first quarter, said that his team's turnovers were a concern.
"We fumbled the ball too many times. We've just got to hold on to it. We've got to practice hard and get smarter and we'll be fine," said Kirby, a captain. "We've just got to work on turnover drills, holding the ball, protecting it. We're a smart team. We'll work hard, and we'll definitely fix this."
In the second quarter Jon Kanda (25 rushing yards, 3 catches for 45 yards) rushed for a four-yard touchdown and caught a 15-yard scoring pass from Thyberg, while Hammond's Bayo Odunlami (45 rushing yards, 15-yard reception) scored on a nine-yard rush.
But Borsh's two field goals — from 31 and 29 yards — were the only scoring plays by either team in the second half. The Golden Bears held River Hill — which was averaging 37 points per game — to only 37 yards of offense in the second half, led by Brady Daniel's 24 rushing yards.
In 2011, Hammond forced six turnovers to upset River Hill, 12-9. Last Oct. 19, Hammond ended a 30-game River Hill win streak with a 47-38 win after Tyler Martin passed for 440 yards and six touchdowns.
"We've beat them 12 out of the last 14 times, but the last two or three have been tough," coach Brian Van Deusen said. "They're well coached. Justin (Carey) has done a great job with the rest of the coaching staff, so we knew it was going to be a battle. We're kind of fortunate to come out with the win, but the ball finally bounced our way."
The Hawks lost running back Jacob Howland (12 carries, 53 yards) to an arm injury in the second quarter and tackle Robert Haid to a second-half leg injury. Running back Trey Simpson (11 carries for 60 yards, 25-yard reception) was also sidelined with an injury in the fourth quarter.
"We've just got to protect the ball better. That's something we've done really well, I think we've only had five turnovers all year, and then today we had five," Van Deusen said. "We gave them too many opportunities ... we were fortunate to get that early snap and get the ball (on the turnover)."
The Hawks visit Oakland Mills (6-1) next Friday, then host undefeated Howard at 4:30 p.m. on Oct. 31.
"Howard County has gotten really tough and you've got to come to play every week," Van Deusen said. "It doesn't get any easier, so hopefully we get healthy here and play a little better next week."
"At 7-0 we're feeling good but our hardest games are coming up: Oakland Mills and Howard and Reservoir are three great teams," Kirby said. "We have to focus more and practice harder and get better."