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Hubs have respect for Middletown's 'D'

November 24, 2006|by TIM KOELBLE

When North Hagerstown takes to the field tonight at 7 p.m. for the Maryland Class 2A West championship game at Middletown, the Hubs will face a Knights team that could very well be their toughest defensive opponent of the year.

That will make it more critical for the North offense to play mistake-free football, something the Hubs have been pretty good at doing in the latter half of the season.

"(Middletown's) strong suit is in their front five," said North coach Danny Cunningham. "They are big, they pressure with everyone and try to disrupt everything you do."

The Knights (10-1), champions of the MVAL Piedmont, have won 10 straight since an opening-season loss to Thomas Johnson, 22-14. Middletown defeated Winters Mill 30-0 in its playoff opener last week, while the Hubs (8-3) took care of Francis Scott Key, 27-7.

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The Middletown defense recorded four sacks and three interceptions, blocked two punts and recovered a fumble against Winters Mill. Its offense, shut out in the first half, got into gear in the second half.

Middletown has allowed opponents a paltry seven points per game on average and has posted six shutouts.

The defensive line is anchored by 6-foot-3 Ryan Gilligan, who had two sacks against Winters Mill and can play at tackle and at end. Kevin Linehan, the starting quarterback, is also an outstanding safety.

"(Middletown) is comparable to Key with their size," said Cunningham. "They are way bigger than us. We'll try to mix it up offensively. It's a typical Middletown-coached team."

Since a 1-2 start to their season, the Hubs have managed to avoid the turnover bug.

"We made mistakes early and put the ball on the turf a lot," said Cunningham. "We were turning the ball over four times a game and now we haven't been doing that. The players have gotten more confidence among themselves and gained more respect. I think we surprised some people against FSK."

The Hubs, averaging 33 points per game, have come together with the addition of Justin Donaldson, who returned to North in the fourth week following a transfer back from Mississippi. Donaldson gave North a strong third back to go with Diez Johnson and Marcellus Sumlin. Johnson leads the Hubs on the ground with 920 yards.

"Johnson is the bulldozer, Sumlin is the bulldozer with cutback abilities and Donaldson has the speed," said Cunningham. "We've been able to use our play-action series off the power game."

Middletown's offense has similarities to North's, as coach Lorne Ridenour can call on any of his three backs, Juris Eyler, Justin Riggs and Jimmy Hargett. All are around the 600-yard mark in rushing this season - nothing fabulous, but all of them are effective.

"They have a big defensive team and they have been explosive on offense like us," said Hubs senior quarterback Logan Kelso. "We've been doing a good job on turnovers. We've come together ... like 11 people with one heartbeat as a family."

Kelso has complemented the Hubs' power game, passing for more than 1,200 yards and 18 touchdowns.

The two schools last met on the gridiron in 2002, when Middletown reached the state championship game. During the regular season, Middletown pinned a 45-0 loss on the Hubs.

Among common opponents this season, both teams lost to Thomas Johnson in the first three weeks. Middletown beat Frederick and Boonsboro, while the Hubs lost to each. Both teams defeated Liberty, Brunswick and FSK.

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