Glenelg senior quarterback Tyler Reiff heard the chants from the traveling River Hill fans throughout the game.
“He can’t throw! He can’t throw!” they chanted after each incompletion.
He admittedly takes no offense to it. He understands who stands behind him nearly every play, Howard County’s all-time leading rusher and now the state’s second all-time leading rusher, senior Wande Owens.
“For our team to win, I don’t need to throw,” said Reiff, who never played quarterback before last season and also starts at linebacker. “It’s not what we’re built to do. We’re built to run the ball and that’s pretty obvious the way we play. We’ve got great running backs and a great offensive line.”
The greatest of their running backs, Owens, once again carried the Gladiators past their rival Hawks and had three touchdowns and 225 yards on 28 carries in a 35-0 victory in the 2A South regional championship on Friday to clinch their third straight region title.
Glenelg (12-0) will be the No. 1 seed and host No. 4 New Town (10-2), the 2A North region champions, in a state semifinal Nov. 23 or 24.
It’s the second time they have shutout the Hawks (8-4) this year — the first was a 12-0 victory on Oct. 19 — and the third straight year they have beaten River Hill in the playoffs.
“That’s a tremendous accomplishment by our defense. All year, coach [Tim] Cullen has had those guys playing really, really well,” said Glenelg coach Butch Schaffer of his defense, which picked up its second shutout of the playoffs, fourth in the last five weeks and seventh of the year. “It’s a great feeling to beat River Hill, and it’s even better to beat them twice.”
Owens put the Gladiators in front early, scoring on a 24-yard run to cap a four-play drive during which he carried the ball each time and gained 47 yards. A 13-yard scamper early in the second quarter doubled Glenelg’s lead to 14-0.
He finished the first half with 142 yards on 20 carries but wasn’t done yet. Owens showed off his speed and raced to the end zone for a 61-yard touchdown on the second play of the third quarter.
“It’s a beautiful sight. I love watching that No. 6,” Reiff said of Owens. “He’s just so good at what he does. It’s an honor to hand the ball off to him every play. I’ll put that in my stat sheet: a lot of handoff touchdowns.”
An interception by Trisden Bovello at Glenelg’s own 7 to end a River Hill drive set up the final blow. A 13-play, 93-yard drive took nearly eight minutes off the clock and ended with Reiff quieting the Hawks faithful by completing a 29-yard pass to Michael Doughty for a touchdown on a fourth-and-3.
Kyle Dry, who spelled Owens effectively and finished with 11 carries for 89 yards, started the running clock with a 16-yard touchdown run midway through the fourth quarter.
Fittingly, the final play of the game was an interception by Cooper Sancomb.
“When you have great leadership, you have a great team and that’s really the difference between our team this year and teams in the past,” Schaffer said. “This leadership is the best I’ve ever had. They’re a special group.”
It was Owens’ eighth game with at least 214 yards rushing and gives him 2,417 yards and 38 touchdowns on 253 carries this season. He’s now closing in on his own single-season county rushing record of 2,504 yards set during his sophomore season, and his performance on Friday night moved his career total to 6,091 yards. He’s only the second player in state history with more than 6,000 yards, trailing only Dunbar’s Tavon Austin, who had 7,962 from 2005 to 2008, according to mdprepfootball.com.
Schaffer wasn’t surprised. He’s run out of superlatives for his star player.
“Love watching him run, I love the person he is and the team feeds off of him, and you can see it,” he said. “He’s a special, special person.”
Glenelg has never made it past the state semifinal round in its history, but this time it won’t have to travel to Damascus, which lost to Oakdale in the 2A West regional final. The Gladiators haven’t lost at home since Sept. 16, 2016, a 20-14 loss to Wilde Lake, and Schaffer said he expects his home crowd to make a difference next week.
“Someone is going to have to come up here and beat us in our own place, and that hasn’t happened for a while,” he said. “We’re looking forward to the challenge. We know whoever we play, it’s going to be a tremendous football game and we’re looking forward to next week, for sure.”
River Hill coach Brian Van Deusen said the reason for the defeat was simple: Wande Owens.
“Wande is the best back in Howard County probably since [Michael] Campanaro and Malik [Redd] and the guys I had 10 years ago, so Wande’s special,” he said. “But they’re also good up front, [linebacker Sam] Alsheimer is a heck of a player and they’ve got a good defense. ... It’s just one of those years. We’re young; nobody expected us to be here.”
Van Desusen also said he believes this is Glenelg’s best shot to win it all. He said he would be rooting for his rival to go the distance.
“Shoot, they’re due,” he said. “Sixty years and they’ve never won a state championship. So hopefully those guys can get their first and experience what we’ve experienced.”
Glenelg (12-0) — 35, River Hill (8-4) — 0
G — 7 7 14 7 — 35
RH — 0 0 0 0 — 0
G: Wande Owens 24-yard run, Chris Retzbach kick [7-0]
G: Owens 13-yard run, Retzbach kick [14-0]
G: Owens 61-yard run, Retzbach kick [21-0]
G: Tyler Reiff 29-yard pass to Michael Doughty, Retzbach kick [28-0]
G: Kyle Dry 16-yard run, Retzbach kick [35-0]