River Hill football eagerly awaited Friday night’s game against Long Reach for several reasons.
It marked the Hawks’ home opener and was the first Ravens RISE High School Football Showdown game of the season. As part of the festivities, Ravens cornerback Marlon Humphrey and safety Geno Stone were honorary captains for each team.
Humphrey spoke with the Hawks pregame, while Stone met with the Lightning. Humphrey’s message to River Hill was simple: “Keep the energy up for all four quarters. Don’t give up and play fast and physical.”
River Hill checked all of those boxes in a 28-8 victory, controlling both lines of scrimmage by rushing for over 300 yards and recording five sacks.
“Those guys played hard,” River Hill coach Brian Van Deusen said. “The defensive line is one of the strengths of [Long Reach’s] defense; they’ve got good size and speed. They give you a lot of different looks. [Our offensive line] came in focused and that’s their best game all year.
“That’s one thing we’ve been working on a lot is getting pressure. Watching their games, when the quarterback has time, he puts the ball there and they have a lot of great receivers. Our focus was bringing pressure from different angles and giving them different looks, trying to confuse the line and not let them get comfortable. I think we did that early and when we do it kind of takes its toll.”
The Hawks’ offensive line of right tackle Renato Tejada, right guard Aydin Masood, center Matthew Sheppard, left guard Wesley Weinberg and left tackle Cole Messina created consistent running lanes for quarterback Shane Schrecengost and running back Jett Born. Schrecengost ran for 113 yards and three touchdowns on 21 carries, while Born had 198 yards and a score on 15 carries.
Both Born and Schrecengost were thrust into increased roles with quarterback Omar Hassan out because of injury. Schrecengost typically plays running back but stepped in as the signal caller, while Born became an increased part of the running back rotation.
It didn’t take long for the Hawks to assert their control up front, executing a six-play, 56-yard drive to open the game, capped by Schrecengost’s 5-yard score.
“The first drive, we really focused all week that we need to open up and score,” Schrecengost said. “We played Centennial on Monday and got shut out in the second half. So, we really wanted to come out, score, get on them first and put them away.”
River Hill (3-1) was only just beginning. Long Reach went three-and-out on all four of its first-half drives, pushed behind the sticks because of penalties and sacks. The Hawks took advantage of strong field position with two more first-half touchdown drives. One was a four-play drive, highlighted by Born’s 45-yard touchdown scamper and the other was a mix between both runners with Schrecengost ultimately finishing off a 4-yard score.
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“It’s really tough,” Long Reach coach Jamie Willis said of the 21-point halftime deficit. “Unless you get stops, you just see the clock melting away. We watched the clock melt away and then it puts pressure on your defense and your offense to do what they have to do. Then, you’re pressing and quarterbacks are trying to make plays that aren’t there at times. It just perpetuates everything.”
Long Reach (2-2) started the second half with the ball and needed a spark. Senior Jaylen Etheridge seemed to provide that, returning the kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown, but it was called back because of offsetting penalties. The Lightning did sustain their best drive of the game up to that point, but it was derailed — again — by penalty.
Then, the Hawks’ rushing attack once again hit its stride. River Hill put together its final touchdown drive, going 70 yards in seven plays, sparked by Born’s 51-yard run to start the drive. That put the finishing touches on a dominant day for Born, who took Humphrey’s pregame message to heart.
“I was just wanted everyone to stay positive,” Born said. “I know we struggled in the past in second halves, so I feel like we really stepped it up today. I just kept telling everyone, ‘You’ve just got to stay positive and just do our jobs.’ We did our jobs and did what we had to do.”
Trailing by 28, Long Reach broke the shutout in the final three minutes. With starting quarterback Noah Murdock going out injured early in the second half, Robert Hicks gave the Lightning a spark. He connected with Etheridge and Matthew Brown for big completions, setting up a 16-yard pass to Jayden Thompson for the Lightning’s only score.
Shortly after, River Hill closed out the game on the ground. That put the finishing touches on a night highlighted by strong running, a capacity crowd and a visit from two Ravens players.
“It’s really cool,” Humphrey said. “I think being a high school kid you kind of dream of either playing at the collegiate or pro level, but even if you don’t get there, some of my better memories were playing high school football. I think it would be pretty cool to have somebody that’s played at any level higher than high school come out and talk with them.”