- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Playing in 13 football games per season has become the norm for the Huntingtown Hurricanes in recent years.
Last Friday, they again assured themselves of a 13th game — known as the state semifinals — this fall after winning their fourth straight Class 3A South Region crown in a 29-7 victory over Westlake.
Huntingtown (11-1) is confident that Game No. 13 this time around will not yield an unlucky fate like it has the last two years for the program but instead result in a second appearance to the state title game where it last played in 2009, settling as the Maryland runner-up that postseason.
The Hurricanes’ return to the state semifinals has them visiting Baltimore County’s Milford Mill Academy (11-1) Saturday at 1 p.m. By virtue of a slightly higher points average (10.5 to 10.2), based on wins and defeated opponents’ victories, Milford Mill has earned hosting duties.
However, Huntingtown is ranked slightly higher in the state’s 3A rankings on Maxpreps.com, which has the Hurricanes at No. 3 with a power rating of 38.5, two spots ahead of Milford Mill with a rating of 32.4.
So there’s every reason to expect a tight outcome with a berth at stake to the state final at the Baltimore Ravens’ M&T Bank Stadium next week.
“There’s definitely a tradition. We were confident, we weren’t overly confident [that we could get here],” said Huntingtown senior linebacker Matt Roller, whose defense has buckled down as this season has worn along with just 9.2 points allowed its last five games. The Huntingtown defense has also found the end zone in each of its past two playoff games after failing to do so in the regular season. “There’s a different focus in the playoffs, it’s a different animal.”
The Huntingtown defense has done its job the last three years in the state semifinals, yielding no more than 15 points in any of those games.
Yet, Huntingtown is just 1-2 in those state semifinals appearances largely because its offense has been shut down, averaging just eight points in each of those games.
While Milford Mill features offensive firepower, much like Huntingtown this season, the Baltimore County outfit’s defense has not been nearly as dominating, according to the stats.
Milford Mill, which is averaging just over 30 points per game, is yielding almost 19 points a contest. Meanwhile, Huntingtown is scoring slightly more (32.1 points per game) while surrendering considerably less points (12.7) per game, almost by a full touchdown.
And that could be the difference, if the numbers are any indication.
This could be the state semifinals where the Huntingtown offense finally breaks out, spearheaded by a balanced, potent attack behind senior quarterback Zach Piazza and junior running back Arnez Bowens.
“This is the most balanced team we’ve had offensively,” said Huntingtown first-year head coach Brendan Galligan, who was an assistant for the past Hurricanes teams that got this far in the playoffs. “If you want to take away the run, we’ll throw it. If you want to take away the pass, we’ll run it. [In the past], we were run-heavy. When somebody shut down the run against us, we really panicked.
“This year with Zach [at quarterback], we’ve got some good receivers, some good tight ends, some good running backs. If you want to take away the run, that’s fine.”
Last week in the regional final against one of the Southern Maryland Athletic Conference’s top defenses in Westlake, which held Huntingtown to just seven points in the Hurricanes’ only loss four weeks earlier, Piazza was an efficient 5 of 9 for 129 yards and the momentous 75-yard touchdown pass right before halftime that unknotted a seven-all contest.
Huntingtown never looked back.
Bowens also had a big night in the regional final with 159 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries.
“We’ve been here [before], this is our fourth regional [title] in a row,” Piazza said. “Our team’s confident. We play as a team, and we play for each other. We definitely have a shot [for a state-final berth]. Our team is not looking back.”
Bowens added, “This is the year we want to finish. In 2013, we want to finish this. I believe in us. I believe in this whole organization. We’ve put in too much work.”
The Huntingtown-Milford Mill winner plays the winner of the Urbana-River Hill matchup from the other state semifinals, slated for Friday at 7 p.m. State favorite River Hill hosts that game.
The state final is scheduled for next Thursday at 7 p.m.