River Hill senior Brett Shaw talks about his team's 42-6 victory against Long Reach on Thursday, Sept. 28, 2017. (Tim Schwartz / BSMG staff video)
HOWARD COUNTY, MD — After his team split with Long Reach and upset the No. 1-seeded Lightning in the Class 3A East regional semifinals last year, River Hill coach Brian Van Deusen was expecting a battle Thursday night between two undefeated teams.
But after the No. 14 Hawks forced a running clock in the final two minutes by scoring on their second straight possession to take a 42-6 lead that held up as the final score, even Van Deusen was surprised by the result.
"Watching the game tape, they've looked really good," Van Deusen said. "Defensively we knew they were going to be strong with most of their guys back from last year. ... We certainly didn't expect this."
The Hawks intercepted three passes — two in the first quarter — while junior quarterback Luke Champion controlled the offense to perfection and finished with three rushing touchdowns. River Hill improved to 4-0 while the No. 12 Lightning fell to 3-1.
The Hawks ran for 119 yards in the first half and 221 in the second with a number of different running backs. Austin Abraham, Brendan McKenna, Brett Shaw and Champion handled the majority of the work, with any given player toting the ball at a given time. And on Thursday night, seemingly everything worked.
"It's a bunch of things. It's running right, it's running left, it's up the middle," said Champion, who finished with 15 carries for 61 yards while completing six of nine passes for 102 yards. "It's a lot of misdirection and trying to catch the defense off-guard."
Champion did most of his damage with his feet in the red zone. He capped both of River Hill's 70-yard scoring drives, a 10-play possession in the first quarter and a 13-play drive in the second, with touchdown runs as the Hawks took a 14-0 lead into the break.
The defense, meanwhile, had four sacks in the opening quarter to go with the two turnovers. McKenna, who had three catches for 66 yards, intercepted Tyler Moore with a one-handed catch down the left sideline to stall the Lightning's first drive, and Shaw picked off a loose ball at the Hawks' 2-yard line two possessions later after sophomore safety Beau Brade pummeled a wide receiver across the middle.
"Last year we were just so young [on defense]," Van Deusen said. "We've got eight returning starters on defense and they're just jelling together. We're not big on the line, but we're getting some pressure on the quarterback, which is helping our secondary guys get some interceptions."
McKenna broke loose for River Hill's first big gain of the night on its second drive of the second half. He took a double handoff 63 yards down the right sideline to extend the lead to 21-0, and the Hawks answered Long Reach's only score of the night — a 28-yard run by KaDarrian Booker — with an eight-play drive that went 78 yards. Champion punched it in on a 1-yard plunge for his third score of the night.
"We pride ourselves on having a good defensive line and front six and seven, but our front six and seven didn't show up tonight and that's a problem," said Long Reach coach Jamie Willis. "If you can't stop the run in Howard County, you're going to have a problem."
The Hawks kept the ball for the final 11:05, stringing together a seven-play, 61-yard drive that Shaw finished with a 5-yard run before a 12-play, 55-yard scoring possession after recovering the kickoff.
Booker, who had run for more than 200 yards against Oakland Mills and Wilde Lake this season, was held to 64 yards on 11 carries including just 13 yards in the first half.
"I don't know if it was the bye week, I don't know if it was the short week this week, but we didn't come out and play our best football on offense, defense or special teams," Willis said. "When you don't do that against a team as well-coached as they are, that's what happens."