With a spot in the Class 3A football quarterfinals hanging in the balance and a St. Charles team that played them to within a point in the regular season coming to town, the Huntingtown Hurricanes were anxious to get Friday night’s 3A South Region second round game underway.
But then the visiting Spartans received the opening kickoff and drove 48 yards over 13 plays, all on the ground. They did not score, but the series chewed up the game’s first 8 minutes 30 seconds. And to follow it up, St. Charles forced Huntingtown’s offense to a quick three-and-out. Simply put, it was not the start the Hurricanes had drawn up.
“We could have hung our heads and started second guessing,” Huntingtown head coach Paul Friel said. “It didn’t faze these kids at all. They knew we’d find something and adjust and do what we needed to do.”
And they did. Huntingtown reached the end zone on its second possession and eventually took a 17-0 lead before ultimately defeating St. Charles 17-8.
The Hurricanes (11-0 overall), the top overall seed in the 3A classification, host the eighth-seeded Wilde Lake Wildecats, from Howard County, in the state quarterfinals at 7 p.m. Friday.
Against St. Charles (8-3), a team Huntingtown had managed to beat by just a point in a 21-20 regular season battle on Oct. 4, the Hurricanes drew first blood on Trent Connolly’s 8-yard touchdown pass to Cameron Dalrymple with 8:58 remaining in the second quarter.
On their next possession, Huntingtown drove 45 yards in seven plays to double its 7-0 advantage. Connolly capped the series with a 1-yard carry across the goal line with just 48.8 seconds remaining in the half, extending the lead to 14-0 with Bryce LaFollette’s successful extra point.
Midway through the third period, LaFollette hammered a 32-yard field goal through the uprights to push the lead to 17-0 with 5:10 left in the quarter. That proved to be plenty for the Hurricanes’ defense, which held the Spartans off the scoreboard until Klayton Batten scored on an 11-yard scamper with just 3:04 remaining in the game.
“I think it went just as we planned except that last drive,” Huntingtown defensive end Jack Rosnage said. “They squeezed one in there, but honestly after that one-point win [in the regular season] we weren’t satisfied. This was a redemption game with them. They’re a good team, good competitors. We just toughed it out. We came out strong from the beginning. Defense came out strong, offense drove the ball well. Keep moving on.”
Huntingtown is looking to improve on last season’s state semifinal finish. To make it back to that point, the Hurricanes will need to defeat a Wilde Lake team (4-7) that pulled an upset in the 3A East over top-seeded River Hill, of Howard County, in the playoff’s first week.
“We’ll watch film and prepare,” Rosnage said. “We have good personnel coaches and great players. ... We’ll just trust the process and do what we do.”
After the game’s initial series, St. Charles could not sustain much offense against the Hurricanes, earning just two first downs between that and its final scoring series late in the fourth quarter. Batten led the team’s rushing attack with 79 yards, while Justin Palmer gritted out another 39. But yards were not easy to come by, for either team, on Friday night.
“Huntingtown is a really good football team with really good football coaches,” St. Charles head coach Patrick Orndoff said. “They execute and don’t make mistakes. They capitalize on your mistakes, and that’s why they are the No. 1 overall seed in 3A. They dominated us up front on both sides of the ball for most of the game. The game is won or lost in the trenches and tonight was an example of that.”
St. Charles reached the playoffs for the first time a year ago, which also marked the program’s first season finishing with a winning record. This year, the Spartans took another step with their first playoff win, but further steps will have to wait.
“I think when we step back from this moment, because this moment is supposed to hurt, there is nothing but pride in these guys, especially these seniors,” said Orndoff, who just finished his second year at the program’s helm. “When I came in they were juniors and they laid the foundation last year with the first winning season and first playoff appearance. They picked it up and were strong again. We lost tonight by nine and it’s our biggest loss of the year. We had two losses by one point each. These kids fought all year long, the whole game, and all the way down to the end you couldn’t drag some of the kids off the field, hurt or not.
“I’m real proud of these kids, proud of the coaches. The administration has been really supportive. We’ll look back and be real proud of this season.”
Huntingtown gained less than 200 yards of offense on Friday night, itself, but capitalized on its chances and built a three-score lead by midway through the second quarter. The Hurricanes will now face a Cinderella team that has already advanced two rounds further than most would have predicted. But ultimately for the Hurricanes, it just comes down to what they do, according to Friel.
“Bottom line is, we’ve always said from the beginning, the only team that can beat us is us,” he said. “ Against [St. Charles] the first time we made a lot of mistakes. We were anxious to fix them. I think we did. I still don’t like it that close, but they’re a very good football team.”