Leopards catch break: Interception wins it

October 18, 2008|By MARK KELLER

The Smithsburg Leopards were unable to get their offense untracked Friday night at School Stadium, so they relied on their defense.

The Leopards held South Hagerstown to zero rushing yards and Jay Hartley returned an interception for the game's only touchdown as Smithsburg beat the Rebels, 7-0.

"We knew it was going to be on us, that we couldn't make any mistakes," Smithsburg linebacker Alex Akers said. "We came out a little slow, but we picked it up and kept them to just a couple first downs.

"I knew we wouldn't let them score."

For a while, it looked like neither team would score. In fact, neither offense even moved the ball inside the opponent's 35-yard line in the first half.


"We had a couple passes we just missed on. We were close a couple of times," Smithsburg coach Buddy Orndorff said. "All we could do is try to control the ball and pray to God that something happens, and Jay was it."

On a first-down play from the South High 20-yard line, Rebels quarterback Hunter Phillips threw to his right, but failed to pick up Hartley.

Hartley had dropped back in zone coverage. Hartley jumped the route and picked off the pass at the 29 with a clear path to the end zone ahead of him, scoring with 9:08 to play in the game.

"I knew I had to step up," Hartley said of his first interception of the season. "Coach told us at halftime it was going to come down to the defense making some big plays."

The Rebels (3-4) did an admirable job of shutting down a Smithsburg team that had scored at least 45 points in each of its last three games. The Leopards (7-0) managed just 161 yards of offense, 152 of them on the ground.

"I told them they played very, very well tonight and that they should be proud of themselves," South coach Greg Kellick said. "You're never pleased when you lose, but it hurts even more when you play your hearts out and lose this way than if you go out and lose 35-0. It'll be harder to get them back on Monday after a loss like this."

Smithsburg began moving the ball in the second half, with tailback Erick Parker and fullback Tyler Scott leading the charge. The Leopards drove the ball to the South 18 early in the third quarter before fumbling on a fourth-down play.

The Leopards then forced a South punt -- one of nine on the night -- and got their offense going again. Scott ran for 17 yards and Parker followed with an 18-yard jaunt to put Smithsburg in field goal range, but Coby Blum missed a 24-yarder from the right hash mark.

"South has a heck of a team. I want to tell all of South Hagerstown that," Orndorff said. "We told the kids this was (South's) Senior Night, that they're going to play inspired football. The longer we let them stay in it, the tougher it was going to be."

After Hartley's touchdown, the Rebels had an opportunity to tie. Phillips hit Nick Stubbs across the middle for a 16-yard gain. But three plays later, Phillips overthrew Devaun Bowie and Smithsburg's Josh Conway was there to make his second interception of the game.

Phillips, a sophomore making his first start since being promoted to the varsity squad Thursday, completed 6 of 16 passes for 63 yards and drew the praise of Kellick.

"I give all the credit in the world to him. He just played a JV game Wednesday and got a little beat up, but came in here tonight and handled it very well," Kellick said. "He's just going to get better from here."

Scott had 79 yards on 14 carries and Parker finished with 64 on 20 carries for the Leopards.

"We didn't score, but we still felt like we were in control of the game," Scott said. "We showed that Smithsburg has heart. To play a game like this, to find a way to win ... it's a big one for us."

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