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Playoff implications add to city showdown

November 05, 2004|by MARK KELLER

keller@herald-mail.com

In each of the last two editions of the Hagerstown Gridiron Championship Classic - better known as the North-South football game - one team has entered the contest with a postseason berth already in hand, or at least nearly so.

The 48th meeting between the Hagerstown schools, which will be played tonight at 7 at School Stadium, follows that same pattern. North Hagerstown (8-1) has locked up a spot in the Maryland Class 2A West semifinals for the second straight year and will play at least one more week.

South Hagerstown (5-4), however, is not playing the part of the patsy this season. While last year's Rebels and the Hubs of 2002 were long out of the running for the postseason, this year's Rebels still have an outside shot of grabbing the final position in the 2A West bracket.

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"With a victory, South can get in. We've talked about that," North coach Dan Cunningham said. "They're going to play this game like they always do and try to have a strong showing. They're going to come out firing."

As if beating its cross-town rival weren't enough motivation for South, the idea that doing so could result in the team's second playoff berth in three years should provide even more fuel for the fire.

But, shhhhhh! Don't tell the Rebels about that.

"It's been business as usual. We haven't mentioned it at all," South coach Greg Kellick said. "It might be best to take the pressure off of them and let them focus simply on North."

It could have been different for the Rebels. Had they won either of their last two games - a 14-8 loss to Smithsburg and a 9-6 defeat at the hands of Brunswick - they would have controlled their own playoff destiny, needing only to beat North to qualify. Wins in both of those games would have made North-South more about playoff seeding.

But with losses in both of those games, the Rebels need a victory over North and, essentially, the planets to align in order to get in.

"We knew that if we won two of our last three games, we'd be in good shape," Kellick said. "We needed to take care of Brunswick, but the breaks didn't go our way and we missed that opportunity.

"(Brunswick) had a field goal that hit the crossbar and went over, completed a pass on a third down to keep a touchdown drive going, and on the touchdown itself, their guy was there and we were there. He just jumped a little higher than us. It was that kind of night."

· The Hubs already have clinched their postseason berth, but they, too, are looking for help from other teams in the final week of the regular season.

North is third behind Fort Hill and Francis Scott Key in the 2A West standings and can finish no lower, regardless of the result of tonight's game. But due to the cancellation of last week's Beall-Riverdale Baptist game, the Hubs need to beat South and FSK to lose to Winters Mill tonight to move into the second spot in the region and earn a home game in the first round of the playoffs.

North beat Beall in the season opener, so the cancellation of the Mountaineers' game last week denies the Hubs a possible precious bonus point - one that could mean the difference between hosting FSK at School Stadium next week and traveling an hour to play the Eagles on their home field.

"It's unfortunate that it happened that way," Cunningham said. "But this is our 10th game and it's as important as any of them. We're not looking at the playoffs yet. We'll talk more about the 'P' word after the game. We'll see where we're sitting then."

Cunningham said the Hubs are also out to complete some unfinished business - not with South, but from their win last week against Smithsburg.

"We had a lot of unfinished drives last week, so we carried that over to this week. I hope we have a finishing attitude," Cunnigham said. "Give Smithsburg credit for stepping up and making plays, but we're not accustomed to not finishing."

· The last two games in the series have been blowouts, each time the winner setting a series record for largest margin of victory.

If the numbers are any indication, this year's contest will not follow suit.

Both teams have been strong defensively all season. The Rebels have allowed just 101 points all year and no team has scored more than 21 points against them. The Hubs have allowed 91 points - 35 of them by Frederick in North's only loss of the season.

"In the league we play in, it starts at defensive end," Kellick said. "If you can't stop the off tackle plays and the sweeps, they'll kill us. Jimbo Harmon has been a leader for us as far as playing that position on the field and helping the younger guys when he's on the sideline."

Kellick said while Smithsburg's Matt Feiser and North's Dean Staley get a lot of attention at linebacker, he has a pretty good pair in A.J. Bandeff and Allen Daniels.

"They complement each other tremendously," Kellick said. "There's a lot of confidence ... they trust in each other. They're going to their spots in the cutback lanes and not trying to be heroes and running plays down."

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