Nobody gave the Urbana High School football team a chance. Not against Damascus. Not against Seneca Valley. Certainly not against River Hill.
That was an attitude not reserved for the playoffs. To many, Urbana’s football season was over on Oct. 5, when Middletown took an easy 41-20 victory, setting the Hawks back to .500 six games into the season. Playoff hopes were slim at best.
“On Oct. 6, I don’t think there’s anybody in the state of Maryland that expected us to play in the state semifinals,” coach Ryan Hines told his team as they kneeled on the River Hill grass.
Yet play they did. After becoming the darling of the state playoffs by stunning undefeated Damascus in the opening round on a two-point conversion in overtime, Urbana then marched into Seneca Valley where the Hawks proved their win was no fluke.
But River Hill isn’t just some run-of-the-mill high school team. River Hill, also named the Hawks, is to Howard County what Middletown currently is to Frederick County, and Frederick’s Hawks had no answer for Howard’s Hawks on Friday night.
River Hill ended Urbana’s run through the 3A state playoffs in convincing fashion, taking a 29-7 victory at home to get a shot for its second consecutive state title Thursday at M&T Bank Stadium. River Hill faces the winner of Saturday’s game between Huntingtown and Millford Mill.
“They do a great job coaching the kids up and they just played hard,” Hines said. “And I hope they do win so I can look at our schedule and say ‘We lost to the 3A state champ, the 2A state champ, and, I’m not sure what Westminster did, but we could lose to the 4A state champ.”
Westminster will not be the 4A champ. The Owls (12-1) lost to Quince Orchard on Friday.
Each of the Hawks’ four losses this season came against teams that were undefeated at the time, and Middletown and River Hill both remain unbeaten with just state title games left.
Urbana’s story ended by the sound of “interception, River Hill” coming from the announcer. Three times the Hawks were picked off, two from sophomore quarterback Donovan Pannell and once from Darren Ambush, although that came on a desperation fourth-and-long trick play.
Those interceptions, along with a running game that couldn’t escape a stacked line, were the difference on Friday as Urbana mustered just one second-half first down after trailing just 16-7 heading into the locker rooms.
“They were in a 6-2 and they were just blitzing, really,” said sophomore running back Raekwon Gray, who was held to a season-low 49 yards on 17 carries. “So I mean it’s hard to run when you’re blitzing, putting eight in the box, you know, sending people.
“I got two more years but I can’t look at it like that. I was thinking, the seniors, it’s hard to take because this team won a state championship and we know how it feels.”
And after the final buzzer sounded and the River Hill faithful rejoiced, after half a dozen coaches made the last speeches their seniors would ever hear, Brendan Wharton grabbed Cole Burdette and Darren Ambush and any other senior he could get his arms on and gave them the last fully-padded hug he would give them.
“They’re my brothers. I love them, I’ve been playing with them since I’ve been in sixth grade,” the emotional tight end said afterwards. “I’ve grown up, I’ve learned to love them. They’re my brothers.”
Their season may be over, but Hines made one thing very clear to everyone dressed in a white and navy blue uniform: it was one heck of a ride.
River Hill 29, Urbana 7
River Hill (13-0) 7 9 6 7—29
Urbana (9-4) 0 7 0 0—7
RH—Stephan Osong 13 run (Alex Potocko kick)
U—Michael Dunn 4 run (Cole Burdette kick)
RH—Nick Ball 35 pass from Austin Altman (Alex Potocko kick)
RH—Patrick Coffey tackled in end zone for safety
RH—Austin Altman 1 run (Alex Potocko kick failed)
RH—Justin Arn 13 run (Alex Potocko kick)
River Hill—Stephan Osong 16-106; Austin Altman 10-54; Justin Arn 9-43; Evan Griffin 9-14.
Urbana—Raekwon Gray 17-49; Michael Dunn 6-22; Kevin Bettis 2-13; Donovan Pannell 2-9.
River Hill—Austin Altman 9-14-114-1.
Urbana—Donovan Pannell 5-11-46-2; Darren Ambush 0-1-0-1.
River Hill—Nick Ball 3-50; Evan Griffin 3-26; Justin Arn 1-22; Cory Daniel 1-10; Stephan Osong 1-10.
Urbana—Darren Ambush 3-39; Freddy Romero 1-30; Raekwon Gray 1-3.