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Hubs should have no trouble hanging with Fort Hill

November 13, 2003|by DAN KAUFFMAN

kauffman@herald-mail.com

On Monday, I spent 15 minutes on the phone with a relative of a North Hagerstown football player who called the office. The conversation was anything but confrontational (us sportswriters have been known to have a few knock-down, drag-outs with athletes' parents from time to time, usually about the time All-Area teams come out ... but that's another story), and revolved around how I believed the Hubs would fare against Fort Hill on Friday.

It was about then that I realized I was in a rare position for a Herald-Mail sportswriter. I've seen Fort Hill play more times this season (twice) than I've seen the Hubs (zero).

Now, I'd be nuts to say I'm the perfect guy to coach the Hubs on Friday. Frankly, I think Danny Cunningham needs my help about as much as Gary Williams does (which is to say my future is in writing). But I do know a thing or two about North's opponent, which I shared with the relative and will now share with all those Hubs fans who are more than a little antsy about Friday's game.

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* First of all, rest assured, this is very much a winnable game for North.

That doesn't mean it's going to be easy, mind you. But if you're worried about Fort Hill outmatching, outpowering or out-anythinging the Hubs, relax.

The Sentinels don't do anything these Hubs haven't seen before this season.

Fort Hill runs fullback Randy Rice - a rugged, tough runner who's been solid all season - between the tackles, and the athletic and dangerous Andre Pope around the corners. Quarterback Branden Giffin is capable of making the needed pass on third down and has enough mobility to escape pressure for some positive runs, but for the most part, the Sentinels want to ride their offensive line, Rice and Pope down the field for clock-eating, point-producing drives.

Sound familiar? It's the same way the Hubs have done most of their damage this year, with running backs Bryan Slater, Derrick Keith and Rigo Valentin leading the way. And as North proved against Smithsburg - with Robby Thompson throwing four touchdown passes - the Hubs know how to throw the ball when needed as well, regardless of who the quarterback actually is.

In other words, these two teams are about as close to even as two teams can be. They both want to play ball-control, smashmouth football and make the other team bend to its will.

This game is going to be close. Anybody worrying that the Hubs will get smoked need not fear. A blowout, one way or the other, is very unlikely.

* If Pope plays (he's missed the last two weeks with an ankle injury, but if he can walk, you've got to think the kid is going to buckle his chin strap), the biggest thing North has to worry about is Pope's ability to make a game-changing play - and not just on offense. He's equally capable of making an interception or a fumble recovery and taking it the other way for six, and it's those kinds of plays that, in the playoffs, become magnified.

* Forget the makeup of Hubs fans to Sentinels fans in the stands. Fort Hill's faithful are going to travel well - there will be at least 2,000 Sentinels fans at School Stadium, maybe more. But I'm sure there will be plenty of support shown for the Hubs, if last week's Hagerstown Gridiron Championship Classic was any indication.

The truth about crowds is that, when you're wearing the jersey and are out on the field competing, you're not aware of anything outside the lines. Sure, 15 minutes before the game players may take notice, but once the first whistle blows, their minds are on the game at hand. So for those Hubs fans worried the Fort Hill crowd will throw North off, don't.

* Finally - and this is the single most important thing for both the players and the fans - enjoy the moment. The Hubs went 6-34 in the four years I went to school there, so if any team should know how special a playoff game is, this one should.

The game will be well-played between two squads who are evenly matched and both well-deserving of their playoff bids. That's high school football at its best.

So take a deep breath, cheer long and loud and have fun. That's really what it's all about, anyway.




Dan Kauffman is a staff writer for The Herald-Mail. His column appears every other Thursday. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 7520, or by e-mail at kauffman@herald-mail.com

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