River Hill and Long Reach are among just a dozen teams in the Baltimore area to remain undefeated through the first four weeks. Each had a bye, because Centennial dropped its program, while Howard, the defending Howard County champion, is also unbeaten at 4-0.
River Hill won 10 of the past 11 meetings with the Lightning, but they split their games last season. Long Reach won the regular-season game, 20-10, but the Hawks rebounded to win the Class 3A regional semifinal by a touchdown. This fall, however, they can meet only once with River Hill now in Class 2A.
Both teams have two shutouts as well as a close victory over Oakland Mills, and each aims to make a run at Howard's recent dominance in the county. First, of course, they're focused on each other.
The Hawks average 31.3 points behind Champion, who has four rushing touchdowns and four passing touchdowns. McKenna has caught three touchdown passes and Shaw has run for three touchdowns.
"They're a spread Wing-T type deal, so they give you a lot of play-action things, they'll boot things and just [do] things that really stretch your defense out. You have to make sure you're covering all of it," Willis said. "They have a fullback that's pretty good and a receiver that's pretty good, but everything is predicated on their quarterback. They'll fake one way and boot him another way and give him the option to run or throw."
Shaw, who sat out last year after suffering an injury during lacrosse season, also has three interceptions. In addition to getting a big boost from the return of Shaw, the Hawks also have senior tight end Tucker Finkelston back after he had to sit out last fall because of an in injury during baseball season.
"Our defense played really well last week against Wilde Lake," Van Deusen said of the 42-0 win. "We need an even better performance this week against Long Reach. Long Reach has great line play on both sides of the ball and they have several playmakers on offense."
The key playmaker in the Lightning offense has been Booker, who ran for 203 yards on 25 carries two weeks ago in a 21-0 win over Wilde Lake. He scored twice, including a 94-yard touchdown on his team's first play from scrimmage. In the season-opening 29-28 win over Oakland Mills, he scored all four touchdowns and two conversion runs, finishing with 269 yards on 32 carries.
Defense likely will be the key for Long Reach, which had significant turnover going into the season on that side of the ball and it showed in the opener, giving up 28 points to Oakland Mills, but Willis said the defense has been coming together the past two weeks.
"Always football comes down to who can run the football and who can stop the run," Willis said, "and that's what we have preached over the years. Whoever can control the line of scrimmage the best on offense and defense will probably win the football game. ... As much as people like to throw and all this happy stuff, there's something about being able to enforce your will on someone and run the ball that's more demoralizing."
Long Reach got a break with it's bye week last week, getting extra time to rest and to prepare for the Hawks while River Hill has the quick turnaround for a Thursday night game. All Howard County teams play on Thursday night this week because Yom Kippur begins at sundown Friday.
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