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High School Football: Defense has carried Hubs in march to playoffs

November 08, 2012|By MARK KELLER | keller@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN — If that’s the case, the Screamin’ Eagles have seen the North defense at its absolute best.

After cycling players in and out of the lineup and shuffling them from one position to the next throughout the middle part of the season, the Hubs have shored things up defensively over the last four games.

That includes holding a couple of eight-win teams — Boonsboro and South Hagerstown — that each scored more than 350 points in the regular season to just 12 points apiece in North’s last two games.

“Defense has definitely been our strong suit these last three weeks that (Seneca Valley) has seen us,” Cunningham said. “We were pretty banged up in the middle of the year. By Week 4 or 5, we had already started eight different guys inside. We were hunting for bodies. You know, we’re a 3A school, but we only dress 34 players.”

Once players started returning from injury — most notably linebacker Austin Stone, who missed time with a leg fracture — and others settled in at new positions, the defense started carrying the offense.

“We’ve had to move people in and out a lot, but when we got Stone back it changed the complexion of the defense,” Cunningham said. “He reads well and makes a lot of plays ... a lot of plays.”

The Hubs (9-1) have been opportunistic, too, taking advantage of turnovers and field position to score nearly 400 points.

But they weren’t able to convert last week in a 14-12 win over South like they had most of the time this season. And Cunningham thinks that will actually help the Hubs this week.

“South was pretty good. We were able to control the tempo, but we couldn’t get in the end zone,” Cunningham said. “A lot of that was South. They played good assignment football against us. You just have to stick to the game plan. You can’t change stuff now.”

That doesn’t mean the Screamin’ Eagles (9-1) won’t see a wrinkle or two from the Hubs, particularly on offense.

Cunningham said the Hubs haven’t been able to explore their entire playbook in game situations and have “been sitting on a lot,” especially late in the season.

“We’ve only had to use the hurry-up once. Our spread pass game, we haven’t used it at all,” Cunningham said. “Coach (Steve) Myers does a great job in practice. We have repped the whole playbook all year. So we’re confident in the playbook because we’ve run it in practice.”

North is a run-first team, led by Isaiah Keyes — who topped the 1,000-yard mark last week — and Kyle Hewlett, who has rushed for more than 900 yards.

“They complement each other so well, and there’s no worrying about carries or yards or touchdowns,” Cunningham said. “It’s all about making the team better and helping the team win.”

Junior quarterback Nick Karlen, overshadowed by the running backs, has quietly thrown for 913 yards with 11 touchdowns and three interceptions.

Tre Anderson, who moved from tailback to slot, has become Karlen’s favorite target, catching 23 passes for 481 yards.

“(Karlen) has been managing games well. He’s pretty laid back, but he’s smart,” Cunningam said. “He’s made two bad passes, and the amazing thing is he knew right away what he did. Before we could say anything, he said he understood, he saw his mistake. In high school football, that’s huge.”

North is in the postseason for the first time since 2006. Its last two games of the season were essentially must-win situations, but there was some margin for error.

Now, the season ends with a loss.

“What it comes down to is knowing your assignment, doing your job and staying together as a team,” Cunningham said. “Ball security will be huge. If we take advantage of that and field position, we’ll live to play another game.”

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