Call it an exercise in press coverage.
Trailing by three to North Hagerstown at halftime, Boonsboro coach Clayton Anders chose not to talk tactics to his team.
Instead, he had one question for his squad: What do you want the headlines to read tomorrow?
"One of the things we talked about this week was that (North Hagerstown is) getting better, and if we allow them to have success early and hang around, we’re going to be in for a dogfight and that’s kind of how the first half played out," Anders said. "We talked at halftime — it really wasn’t X's and O's as much as, hey, figure out if you want to read the paper tomorrow and it says 'Hubs upset Boonsboro' or if you want to see 'Warriors have better second half and take control of the game.' Figure out which you want to read."
The Warriors took note and exploded for 27 unanswered second-half points behind a Herculean effort by fullback Zach Grams, going on to beat the Hubs 44-20 at Mike Callas Stadium on Friday.
The game was featured as the Baltimore Ravens RISE High School Showdown for the week. Each school's athletic department received $1,000, and the Ravens’ cheerleaders and mascot, Poe, were present. The players for each team also received a commemorative T-shirt.
Grams finished with 280 yards on 31 carries and three touchdowns, but a sizable chunk of that came in the pivotal third quarter. Grams had 14 carries for 143 yards and a touchdown in the quarter alone.
"I was really proud of the way they kind of exerted their will. One of our mantras is, if we get something going — tonight it was the off-tackle play — if a team can’t stop it, our mantra is we’re going to run it until they show they can stop it. If they can’t stop it, they’re going to get a steady dose of it," Anders said. "Grams has a low center of gravity, big, thick kid, strong, quick. For those 180-pound kids in the second level, that’s a tough tackle. If a guy gets a run on you and he’s 230 pounds, it’s pretty tough."
The game didn't get off to the start that Grams and the Warriors (6-1) envisioned, as the senior fumbled the ball on the North Hagerstown 1, which Keayon Campbell recovered for a touchback. On the Warriors' next drive, Jacob Hardy had an 11-yard touchdown called back on a penalty. The Warriors had to settle for a Ben Burgan 25-yard field goal for the only points of the first quarter.
Naturally, the second quarter was an explosive one, with North Hagerstown (1-6) and Boonsboro trading blows drive after drive. Chase Metz sprinted down the Boonsboro sideline for a 37-yard touchdown to put the Hubs up 7-3, but the Warriors answered with a six-play scoring drive, punctuated by Grams’ 14-yard touchdown with 9:18 left in the quarter.
On North Hagerstown’s next play from scrimmage, Scott Neal found Ben Stottlemyer for a 70-yard touchdown catch in which the senior back bounced off a couple Warriors defenders and outran the rest for a 14-9 lead.
Boonsboro responded again after Keegan Bowles’ 21-yard touchdown capped off another quick scoring drive for the Warriors, and the Hubs took nearly seven minutes off the clock with their following possession. However, they came up empty-handed after Neal’s fumble just before the goal line, which was initially signaled as a touchdown by the far sideline official.
"We thought he had broken the plane and scored because we saw that signal for a touchdown," North Hagerstown coach Greg Stains said, adding that his vantage point from the sideline made it hard to see exactly what happened. "They wouldn't discuss it with me and tell me what happened, but they marked the ball at the six-inch line so you just gotta assume that the officials are right."
Starting from their 1, the Warriors moved it to the 21-yard line, but Rayvaughn Dillard's interception gave the Hubs a short field at the Boonsboro 30. Four plays later, Stottlemyer punched it in from 2 yards to give the Hubs a 20-17 lead with 18 seconds left in the half.
"First half we were able to move the ball but we stopped ourselves a couple times. They also hit some big plays, which we were concerned that they would, and they moved the ball as well. The thing that we talked about all week was that North has some athletes," Anders said. "They’ve got some fast people, they’ve got some big people, and they’re going to make some plays if we don’t tackle in space. So we had some concerns coming in."
Any visions of an upset the Hubs might have had were vanquished by the ground game of the Warriors.
After the Hubs opened with a three-and-out series, Grams rushed for 71 yards on five carries on the next drive that was capped off by a Brooks Keller 3-yard touchdown run. Grams added 63 yards on the next drive and added a touchdown to make it 30-20 Boonsboro.
Keegan Bowles picked off Neal on the next possession, and Grams’ third touchdown of the night punctuated a six-play, 55-yard, all-Grams drive to make it 37-20 Boonsboro at the beginning of the fourth quarter.
"He’s a rumblin’, stumblin’ guy. He had 140 yards in the third quarter alone. You know it’s coming, but you gotta be able to stop it," Stains said.
Bowles, who had 66 rushing yards and 55 receiving yards, added his second rushing touchdown with 7:38 left in the fourth quarter for a 44-20 lead.