High School sports

No. 14 Hereford ends playoff football skid, advances with 14-12 semifinal win over Overlea

The script for the Hereford football team had remained eerily similar in recent years. Dominate the regular season, secure a coveted spot in the state playoffs and … bow out quietly.

That is, until Friday night.

Minutes after running back Kahlil Rich was taken off the field by ambulance following what was ruled to be an illegal hit, teammate Michael Cotterino scored on a 10-yard run around the left side with 3:34 to play, as the host No. 14 Bulls rallied for two unanswered touchdowns in a 14-12 win over Baltimore County rival Overlea in the Class 2A North semifinals.

"We just rallied the troops and said, `This is it. This is all or nothing right now. Leave it all on the field,'" Hereford coach Ric Evans said. "We said last night at a team dinner — if something happens, next man up. I know that's cliché and everybody says it, but that's how it was for us tonight. That's what we needed from our guys."

Fresh off their first perfect regular season since 2007, the Bulls (11-0) now move on to next weekend's regional final, where they will face the winner of Saturday's game between Dunbar and Randallstown. Hereford will host that game Friday at 7.

It marks the first time since 2009 that the Bulls have advanced past the first round, breaking a four-game postseason losing streak.

Following a scoreless first half, Overlea built a 12-0 lead on third-quarter touchdown runs of 75 and 35 yards by Byron Staten.

Down 12-7, Hereford took possession at its own 36 after a punt, and then got a huge break on a fourth-and-33 from its own 13,when a roughing the punter call resulted in an automatic first down.

Three plays later, the game screeched to a halt when a hit at the end of a run — ruled to be illegal — left Rich motionless near midfield. Play was stopped for several minutes while paramedics attended to Rich, who was transported to a hospital, his head and neck stabilized.

He was seen moving his limbs as he was wheeled off the field.

Once play resumed about 25 minutes later, the Bulls drove the final 40 yards, all on the ground, capped by Cotterino's score.

"We were just pushing through for Kahlil," Cotterino said. "We were just using all of our strength to get those points on the board. We came together as a team, and that's what we had to do."

Hereford's J.D. Nozemack then sealed the win with an interception.

Hereford, which is seeking its first state title since 2002, had exited in the regional semifinal round four of the past six years, including an 8-0 loss to Patterson last season.

Overlea (7-3), meanwhile, has lost in the first round in each of its past three playoff appearances dating to 2012. The Falcons have never won a state title.

Two weeks ago, Hereford held on for a 14-6 win when the two teams met in the regular season.

Early in this one, Overlea looked to be in control. Despite outgaining the Bulls 145-75 in the first half, the Falcons time and again hurt their own cause. Overlea quarterback Jalen McMillan opened the game with a 34-yard pass to Staten, but the drive stalled at Hereford's 26.

A fumble ended Overlea's next drive, before the Falcons came up just shy on a fourth-and 3. Successive drives ended when a fourth-down pass sailed through the hands of receiver Christon Fitzgerald inside Hereford's 10, then again near the end of the half when McMillan lost the handle on a snap and the Bulls recovered near midfield.

Hereford, for its part, also had its offensive struggles. Failing to establish its run game again a stout Falcons defensive line. Hereford's best drive of the first half came early in the second quarter, when a 20-yard scramble by quarterback Jon Marchineck followed by an 11-yard run by Dylan Smith put the ball into Bulls territory.

Moments later, however, an interception ended the drive.

"That is the hardest hitting team we've played all year," Evans said.