As the Urbana High School football team prepared for its 3A West Region final against Seneca Valley High School, Hawks coach Ryan Hines received a phone call from former Gov. Thomas Johnson coach Ben Wright.
Wright called to offer advice since the Patriots were a No. 4 seed, like Urbana is this year, when they upset Seneca Valley last season en route to the state title game. With plenty of support coming from Frederick County, Urbana (9-3) beat Seneca Valley to earn a spot in a 3A semifinal — 7 p.m. Friday at River Hill High School (12-0).
But Hines won’t need any outside tips for River Hill.
That’s because Hines and River Hill coach Brian Van Deusen have known each other for years.
Van Deusen graduated from McDaniel College the year before Hines enrolled there. Both served as captains for the Green Terror football team and they got to know each other when they returned to the school as assistant coaches — Hines for football and Van Deusen for baseball.
Hines said River Hill, which has won 22 straight games and seven region titles in the last eight years, typically runs a “21st-century Wing-T.”
It’s difficult to determine exactly how strong this River Hill team is because no Howard County team has played a team from outside the county this season.
But River Hill has historically proven itself, winning three state championships in the previous five years, including the 3A title last season with a 41-13 win against Thomas Johnson. The other championships came in 2A.
River Hill graduated quarterback Raamah Vaughn (Bryant) and running back Aaron Wells (Villanova), who each ran wild over Thomas Johnson last season, but quarterback Austin Altman and halfback Justin Arn have stepped up this year.
Urbana is led by running back Raekwon Gray, who ran for 199 yards and four touchdowns against Seneca Valley, and a defense that has allowed 10 points per game during a six-game win streak.
Urbana is one of three No. 4 seeds to make the state semifinals in Maryland’s four classifications, but Urbana is not a typical No. 4 seed. The three teams that beat Urbana this season — Westminster, Walkersville and Middletown — are a combined 34-2, and both losses were by Walkersville to Middletown. Westminster is in a 4A semifinal and Middletown is in a 2A semifinal.
Still, Urbana — seeking its second state title in the last three years — has embraced its underdog role.
“We knew that we were going to be underestimated,” cornerback Brandon Plante said. “So, we just went with the motto, ‘Let’s just believe we can do it.’ And look where we are now.”