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Hubs rally for victory

October 18, 2003|by MARK KELLER

keller@herald-mail.com

If there's one player that best embodies the North Hagerstown football team this season, it might be Bryan Slater.

The No. 2 Hubs have come out of nowhere and taken the area by storm, extending their winning streak to seven games with a hard-fought 26-21 victory over No. 4 Catoctin in an MVAL Antietam game at School Stadium on Friday.

The story is similar for Slater, who wasn't even on the North roster in the preseason. Like the Hubs, who assumed a one-game lead in the conference and strengthened their standing in the Class 2A West playoff race, the senior running back has made people stand up and take notice.

Slater has 11 rushing touchdowns this season, but none was bigger than the one he broke off near the end of the third quarter against the Cougars.

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With the Hubs (7-0, 4-0) trailing 21-18 and time running out in the period, Slater took off around right end, picked up a block and headed to the end zone for a 74-yard score to give North a 24-21 lead. Slater also added the two-point conversion.

"If I get a block and open field, it's a touchdown," Slater said. "If I can find the open field, I'm gone."

Slater's touchdown run set the table for the North defense, which slammed the door on the Cougars (5-2, 3-1) in the fourth quarter.

Catoctin had three possessions in the final period, but managed just two first downs and never got close to punching in a go-ahead score.

"They picked it up in the second half and we just didn't execute as well," Catoctin coach Doug Williams said.

Both teams had a little something up their sleeves in the first half. Each has a stable of running backs, yet both took to the air.

The Cougars struck first, converting on fourth-and-15 when Zach Sweeney got behind Hubs defender Quielan Gantt and hauled in a pass from Jason Johnson for a 28-yard touchdown.

Gantt got his revenge on the Hubs' next possession catching a short pass from Ryan Rau and splitting two defenders before sprinting for a 75-yard score. The PAT was blocked, leaving Catoctin ahead, 7-6.

Gantt and Rau connected again on the first play of the second quarter, this time for a 27-yard score and a 12-7 North lead.

"We wanted to go with a no-huddle offense and work from the shotgun, but the elements kind of prevented that tonight," North coach Danny Cunningham said.

After exchanging rushing touchdowns - Catoctin's by Joe Rakoski, North's by Derrick Keith - for an 18-13 Hubs lead, the Cougars aired it out again

Johnson found Sweeney down the left sideline, and the receiver made a beautiful over-the-shoulder catch for a 61-yard score. Rakoski added the two-point run to give the Cougars a 21-18 lead at halftime.

"We were a little lackadaisical in the first half, but we told them to keep their heads up and things would turn around," Cunningham said. "Coach Williams has a great club. They had us on our heels a lot tonight."

The defenses tightened in the second half and both teams began to feel the growing pressure. The Cougars were forced to punt twice and came up empty on a fourth-and-5 play. The Hubs lost a fumble and were held short on a fourth-and-1 play before Slater broke free.

"This was like a championship game," Slater said. "I hope we earn a lot of respect with this. People keep saying we don't play anybody. I hope they're opening their eyes and seeing we're no fluke."

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