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Panthers celebrate another playoff berth

November 06, 2004|by BILL STERNER/Staff Correspondent

CUMBERLAND, Md. - By all accounts, the Hancock football team didn't play its best game against Bishop Walsh on Friday night.

But the Panthers played well enough to earn the first back-to-back state playoff berths in the program's 47-year history.

Hancock managed to put together an efficient offense and played stifling defense to hold Bishop Walsh at arm's length for a thrilling 14-13 win at Brother Stephen F. Paul Stadium.

With the win, Hancock (9-1) all but assured itself a second straight berth in the MPSSAA state football playoffs, which begin next weekend.

A celebration broke out on the Panthers' sideline, as parents, players and well-wishers hugged, cried and snapped photos after Hancock reached nine wins in a season for the first time in school history.

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"I'll tell you, the whole playoff thing is great and I'm not downplaying it at all," Hancock coach John Blake said. "At our school, keeping this thing going year to year and building on our tradition is what matters to these people the most.

"Here we are, I guess, the smallest school in Maryland and we are able to give these kids the full spectrum of the football experience. It's just a great feeling."

But Bishop Walsh wasn't about to pave an easy path for the Panthers.

Using the passing of Chris Hendershot and an aggressive defense which placed eight men at the line of scrimmage, the Spartans never allowed the Panthers to get comfortable. Bishop Walsh bottled up the potent Panthers ground game, holding Hancock to a season-low 143 yards.

But the Panthers were able to score on a quick strike - a 37-yard pass from Kenny Clark to Ryan Joy, who found a gap in the Spartans' zone defense. Hancock also used a 9-minute drive, capped off by a Josh Ruppenthal 2-yard plunge seconds before halftime, to take the lead into the lockerroom.

The Spartans never fell behind by more than a touchdown and had three great opportunities to win the game late in the fourth quarter.

"I think they were able to get off a couple dozen plays in the last quarter," Blake said. "I know Chris (Hendershot) was reading our defense well and they had at least four or five drops that hurt them."

The Hancock defense added to the Spartans' pain, as junior Jaret Trail picked Hendershot in the end zone to end one drive, then later made a diving interception of another pass at midfield.

Defensive end Jeff Willison also harassed the Spartans, batting down three passes and sacking Hendershot twice during key drives late in the game.

"Our defense came to play today," Blake said. "I told our kids we have a lot to work on and a tough task no matter who we play in the first round.

"But this weekend," Blake finished, "we are going home to enjoy this."

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