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High School Football: Hubs, Rebels risk it all for huge rewards

October 31, 2012|By BOB PARASILITI | bobp@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN — It was almost fitting the City Championship luncheon was held on a Halloween afternoon.

The social event/press conference held on Wednesday in North Hagerstown’s library was the calm before Friday’s storm. It was a social gathering that served as the costume for what could have been considered a heavyweight championship fight weigh-in.

It was the prelude to the 56th annual North Hagerstown-South Hagerstown football game, now known as the Gridiron Classic. It was a celebration of the passions and emotions the game adds to the city as the line between the Hubs’ red and Rebels’ green is drawn.

It was built as a battle of friends, who battle as enemies, before leaving the field as friends again. But it is so much more.

“No matter how deep the rivalries are, all of us are friends,” said South Hagerstown principal Dr. Tim Dawson. “This event is bigger than South and bigger than North. It’s the whole community.

“But this game is like a game of Texas Hold ‘Em. It’s about being all-in. All the chips are on the table.”

Just about everything is in the pot for the rematch of South Hagerstown’s 40-7 win from last season. The usual school pride and bragging rights are there, but so is the chance for not one, but both teams to continue on to the postseason in this battle of 8-1 teams.

It is one of the many subplots that surround this game, which will be played on Friday at 7 p.m. at School Stadium.

* Playoffs — Both schools could advance to the Maryland Class 3A West playoffs, but the two teams need different routes to get into the state’s field of 16.

North, currently ranked third in the playoff standings after a dominating win over Boonsboro, could get in no matter the outcome of the game. If the Hubs defeat the Rebels, they are in, probably as the No. 3 seed.

If they lose, they can still advance if Seneca Valley defeats Watkins Mill.

For South, winning is the only route to the postseason. After cruising through the season as an undefeated, the Rebels lost 42-32 to Brunswick last Friday and fell into a chase position in the playoff standings. The Rebels are in fifth by a fraction of a point after the Brunswick loss and need a win to earn the school’s second-ever playoff berth.

“Playoffs will take care of the playoffs,” said North coach Danny Cunningham. “If both teams could get in, that would be great, but we’ll worry about it after the game. It’s the North-South game and we have to take care of what is in front of us.”

* Pride — North enters the game with a 29-25-1 edge in the series, and while there are many fond memories, last year’s loss to South wasn’t one of them.

The Rebels’ victory not only signaled a huge turnaround for South’s program, it ended the Hubs’ eight-game winning streak in the series.

North had all but erected a shrine for the city championship trophy, until the loss.

“That loss motivated us to be better this year,” said North running back Kyle Hewlett. “It taught us not to underlook teams. It made us wake up and work hard at practice.”

"We had beat South eight years in a row, but South came in to play last year and we weren’t ready for them,” North’s Tre Anderson said. “This time, we are.”

And the Rebels don’t plan on giving the trophy back.

“We have only one game to play this week and we only have one game to win this week,” said South coach Toby Peer, while addressing the playoff situation.

* Preparation — Hurricane Sandy has changed the way the game will be played this week.

The Superstorm made a super mess of practice schedules, but both schools are on equal footing since neither was able to practice on Monday or Tuesday.

“I don’t think the short week will hurt us,” Cunningham said. “It is Week 10 and we have been going at it for 13 weeks. The kids are on cruise control, but know they had better be ready for practice because we only have four hours to set the game plan.”

It might be a blessing in disguise because it will eliminate the tendency for trickery and keep both teams very basic.

“It’s a blessing that this game is being played in Week 10 because we already have nine games to draw from,” said Peer. “If this was in Week 2 or 3, it would have an effect. Now we are at the point where they do what they do. At this point coaches are irrelevant. Now it’s down to what the players do.”

* Running attack — Both offenses are built around the running game. South has a strong dependency on Isiaha Smith, a junior who is about to become the first player in Washington County to rush for 2,000 yards, while quarterback Brandon Jackson is the second option.

“Our offense is more than just me running the ball,” said Smith. “It is all of us working together as a team. I’m expecting a tough game. Last year has nothing to do with this year.”

Meanwhile, the Hubs feature a running game known as the Three-Headed Monster. Hewlett is joined by Isaiah Keyes and Preston Carey, while Anderson has been converted into a receiver. The Hubs have scored at least 35 points in each of their last six games.

“We’ve built a lot of momentum and we have a lot of confidence for Week 10,” Hewlett said.

* Unsung defense — While both teams have shown powerful offenses, the defenses have been given much of the credit for all successes.

South’s defense is big and has stopped most opponents in their tracks.

“Both teams are led by their defenses,” Peer said. “They set up everything for the offense.”

North’s defense is fast and opportunistic, using turnovers and special teams plays to create field position.

“The defense has been our strong suit,” Cunningham said. “High school football is all about momentum. We have been able to get turnovers and our kicking game can turn the field so it takes the pressure off the offense.”

* Keys to victory — Peer is concerned about containing the Hubs’ vast abundance of speed.

Cunningham is worried about competing with the physical size of South’s line, Smith and Jackson.

But both coaches are concerned about one thing — having the last chance to score.

“It’s going to be a hard-hitting football game,” Cunningham said. “It could come down to the team who has the ball last. We will have to stay focused, disciplined and play football.”

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