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Cunningham works to keep South from rising again (11

November 07, 2006|by MARK KELLER

They likely weren't meant to be great words of wisdom, but they are words that have stuck with Danny Cunningham for years.

Cunningham was a sophomore JV player who suited up for North Hagerstown for the 1989 football season finale against South Hagerstown, a game which the Rebels won, 28-22.

"My first North-South memory was that game. (James) Frisby had a big game against us," Cunningham said. "Eric Hallenbeck was the quarterback that year. He pulled me aside and said, 'Don't you ever let that happen to you again.'

"I didn't really think much about it at the time, but it's always kind of been stuck in the back of my head ever since."

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Cunningham has done his best to heed Hallenbeck's command. He succeeded Hallenbeck as the Hubs starting quarterback the next two seasons, losing to South as a junior - courtesy of another big game by Frisby - before winning the game as a senior.

Cunningham returned to the fray as an assistant coach with the Hubs in 1996, with the wins and losses following the same pattern. The Hubs lost in his first two years on staff, then won three straight from 1998 to 2000.

The pattern was identical when Cunningham took over head coaching duties from Glenn Cross following the 2000 season, with the Hubs losing to South in 2001 and 2002 before rattling off three straight blowout wins since.

The Hubs also found themselves playing for something beyond the city game each of the last three years, namely the postseason. The Hubs qualified for the playoffs in 2003 and 2004 and were still in the running for a berth entering the North-South game last year.

The situation is the same for this year's North squad. At 6-3, the Hubs are fourth in the Maryland Class 2A West playoff standings going into Friday's 50th North-South game. A win would likely assure them a third postseason berth in four years.

"For a long time, we were never going to the playoffs and that game was all we had. North-South was our Super Bowl," Cunningham said. "It seems like now it's just another game another game with some more meaning."

Cunningham said one thing that has not changed about North-South is the built-in motivation the game provides both teams, whether the playoffs are a possibility or not.

"I recall both teams being 0-9 going into the game (in 1999) and it didn't make a bit of difference to the players," Cunningham said. "It was a chance to go out and play one last time, give the seniors a last chance to play and to beat South. Coach Cross always played that up, giving the seniors a winning exit."

It doesn't hurt that Cunningham's predecessor still roams the hallways at North, reminding Hubs players who they are representing and who their rival is.

"Coach Cross is probably the best at North-South motivation," Cunningham said. "He still gives kids heck for wearing green in August or wearing green any time. That's good for us, because the kids have to pass him in the halls every day."

Cunningham has to put much more time into preparation for the game now than he did as a player. But it's the memories as a player that seem to stand out the most for him.

"We were 8-1 going into the game my junior year and South turned the ball over to Frisby again," Cunningham said. "Dave Lawrence and Frisby ran the same play 30 times - 44 Wham, all night long. I'm still friends with both of them. I see Lawrence at inservice training and he always reminds me how they ran that play 30 times that night.

"It's one of those games that you can just throw names out there, so many names of good players who have come through."

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