Senior Wande Owens does just about everything for Glenelg football.
First and foremost, he’s the Gladiators’ workhorse who won Howard County Times Offensive Player of the Year as a sophomore and is on pace to break the county’s all-time rushing record that was set in 1990. On defense, he stuffs the run and blankets receivers in coverage as a starting safety. And in the rare instance the offense is forced into a fourth-and-long situation, he’ll remain on the field to punt the ball away.
But over his first three-and-a-half years at Glenelg, he had never thrown a touchdown pass. Rarely had he even received an opportunity to do so. But midway through the fourth quarter of the Gladiators’ 49-19 win over Long Reach on Friday night, coach Butch Schaffer put the passing responsibilities in Owens’ hands.
“When he called the play, I was like, ‘OK, this is going to be risky,’” Owens said. “But I caught the ball, I looked down, and then I saw the corner come up and Eric [Gruber] made a good move to get by him. And I saw Eric by himself so I just threw it. It was a good ball, and he caught it for a touchdown.”
The 29-yard connection was Owens’ third total touchdown of the night and served as a fitting complement to his monstrous rushing performance. He carried the ball 32 times for 233 yards — both season-highs — and added two scores to power the Gladiators to their seventh straight win to start the season.
“It’s a good win,” Schaffer said. “Long Reach is a tremendous football team, extremely well coached, and it’s a battle every time we play them, and we knew they were going to play hard as hell.”
Owens’ sixth-consecutive game with at least 193 rushing yards makes him the second player in Howard County history to go over 5,000-career rushing yards. He needs just 93 yards next week against River Hill to pass Raphael Wall, who rushed for 5,095 yards at Wilde Lake from 1987-1990.
Friday’s yardage did not come easy for Owens, especially during Glenelg’s opening two drives when he carried the ball five times for 11 yards. Instead of bursting through open holes, he was running into his offensive linemen and fullback Sam Alsheimer in the backfield. The result? Back-to-back punts.
Glenelg (7-0) allowed a few first downs during Long Reach’s opening few possessions but held strong to force a turnover on downs and then a punt to ensure a scoreless first quarter. That set up the Gladiators with first-and-10 at their own 20-yard line, and from there on out, their run-heavy scheme could not be stopped.
Runs of 22 and 23 yards by Owens brought Glenelg into the red zone, and two plays later, Tyler Reiff opened the scoring with a 10-yard scamper on a quarterback sneak up the middle.
Late in the second quarter, Long Reach answered with a 36-yard touchdown pass from junior Jose Ribalta to sophomore Chris Martin Jr. It’s a connection the Lightning (4-3) would benefit from all night, as Martin Jr. — the county’s top wideout in terms of receiving yards entering Friday night — added six receptions for 180 yards and two scores. However, it’s the only consistent production the Lightning could muster.
With the game tied and about a minute before the break, a run-heavy Glenelg offense moved the ball downfield through the air and scored with 18.3 seconds to spare. It was Gruber who caught the 20-yard throw from Reiff in acrobatic fashion. Falling out of bounds, he somehow hit the front-right pylon with his foot to put his team ahead, 14-7.
To understand why no one has beaten Glenelg to this point in the year, look no further than the third quarter. First came a 12-play, 54-yard that drained 6 minutes, 33 seconds off the clock and ended with a 8-yard touchdown run from Owens. Next came an Alsheimer interception, the Lightning’s second turnover of the game.
And four plays later, the Gladiators took full advantage of the short field by doing what they always do: hand the ball to Owens. He burst through the middle and sprinted into the end zone untouched from 30 yards out. What was a back-and-forth first half was now a 28-7 Gladiators advantage.
“We can’t stop the run, and that’s a problem,” Long Reach coach Jamie Willis said. “We know in Howard County, they are going to run the football, and we can’t stop it right now, so we got to work that out and get better.”
Nobody in the league runs the ball more than Glenelg, and it’s not particularly close. Heading into Friday night, Reiff completed 10 of his 20 passes for 184 yards — over six games. It’s typical for the Gladiators to only throw when they absolutely need to.
But against the Lightning, the Gladiators consistently leaned on their passing game, which was evident by Reiff hitting Alsheimer and Gruber for touchdowns and finishing 7-for-9 for 90 yards. It marked the most completions, pass attempts, passing yards and touchdowns Reiff has had in a game all season.
With River Hill and Wilde Lake still on the league schedule and a potential state championship run looming after that, Owens and Schaffer admit a more-balanced offense is crucial to the Gladiators’ future success.
“We have the ability to throw the ball,” Schaffer said, “and people are going to see it soon.”
Glenelg (7-0) — 0 14 14 21 — 49
Long Reach (4-3) — 0 7 6 6 — 19
G: Tyler Reiff 10-yard run, Chris Retzbach kick [7-0]
LR: Jose Ribalta 36-yard pass to Chris Martin Jr., Ansley Jean kick [7-7]
G: Reiff 20-yard pass to Eric Gruber, Retzbach kick [14-7]
G: Wande Owens 8-yard run, Retzbach kick [21-7]
G: Wande Owens 30-yard run, Retzbach kick [28-7]
LR: Ribalta 57-yard pass to Martin Jr., kick failed [28-13]
G: Reiff 13-yard pass to Sam Alsheimer, Retzbach kick [35-13]
LR: Ribalta 10-yard pass to Elijah Saunders, two-point pass failed [35-19]
G: Owens 29-yard pass to Gruber, Retzbach kick [42-19]
G: Trisden Bovello 1-yard run, Retzbach kick [49-19]