The first priority for No. 2 River Hill in Friday night's Class 3A East regional football game against Atholton was to get off to a good start.
Three weeks ago, the Hawks saw the No. 15 Raiders complete two long passes to jump out to a two-touchdown lead, but not this time.
Nick Bonhag and Brent Kluge scored in the first seven minutes as the host Hawks got the jump on Atholton offensively and their defense played its usual stingy role en route to a 30-3 victory. This is the fifth straight regional championship for the Hawks, who won their 40th straight game.
The Hawks (12-0) likely will be on the road for next week's semifinal, with the winner advancing to the title game at M&T; Bank Stadium on Dec. 4 or Dec. 5.
The Hawks won the last two state 2A crowns and reached the state final in Class 3A in 2005 and 2006. Their last loss was to Friendly in the 2006 state final.
Friday night, the Hawks scored on the opening drive, moving 75 yards in five minutes. Bonhag caught a 29-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Harry McLaughlin.
Bonhag, a 6-foot-3 tight end, said the Hawks wanted to try to exploit size mismatches with the Raiders' cornerbacks, so McLaughlin targeted him early.
"We saw the height advantage was good, so in practice this week, we were throwing it over the top," Bonhag said. "He just threw it up there and let me make a play on it, and I got it and we got in the end zone real early. It gave us the momentum."
Atholton then fumbled on its first play from scrimmage and Thomas Erdman recovered the ball for the Hawks on the Raiders' 14-yard line. Four plays later, Kluge, who finished with three touchdowns, ran 2 yards into the end zone.
With a couple of extra points by Amir Shahegh, the Hawks led 14-0 a little more than six minutes into the game.
"Last time they caught us and got a couple plays on us early," Hawks coach Brian van Deusen said. "So 14-0 was a nice little cushion to start the game, and like all year, our offensive and defensive line played well, and that really helped us tonight."
The Hawks got two touchdown passes from McLaughlin, who hit Kluge late in the third quarter. Kluge finished off the scoring with a 10-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter.
Atholton, which had three turnovers, got on the board late in the first half with Brett Haas' 29-yard field goal, but that answered a 27-yard boot from Shahegh and brought the Raiders only to within 17-3. They were too far behind to get back into the game against a defense that came in allowing just 6.5 points a game.
For the Raiders (10-2), this fall showed a marked improvement over last season's 3-7 finish. First-year coach Kyle Schmitt guided the team to only its second appearance in the regional final in a season in which its only losses were to the regional champs.
A 0 3 0 0 - 3
RH 14 3 6 7 - 30
RH-Bonhag 29 pass from McLaughlin (Shahegh kick)
RH-Kluge 2 run (Shahegh kick)
RH-FG 27 Shahegh
A-FG 29 Haas
RH-Kluge 8 pass from McLaughlin (kick failed)
RH-Kluge 10 run (Shahegh kick)