Joppatowne spent much of the week leading up to its Class 1A North region championship game against Sparrows Point practicing its running game.
Yesterday afternoon, that practice paid off. Visiting Joppatowne rolled up 365 yards on the ground, including a team-high 97 by quarterback Anthony Preston, and overcame an early deficit to crush the Pointers, 47-15, and advance to the 1A state semifinals.
"We've got good athletes and we've got some experienced guys," said Joppatowne coach Bill Waibel. "We're not going to play a whole lot better than this."
It will be hard for the No. 11 Mariners, the defending 1A state champions, to do so. They outgained the Pointers 442-185, converted seven of 11 third- and fourth-down attempts (including all three fourth-down plays) and averaged more than 7 yards per run. Not bad, considering Sparrows Point (10-2) knew what was coming.
Joppatowne (10-2) attempted only three passes, and most of its running plays came out of the same formations.
"It was pretty simple," said tailback Joe Ivory, who rushed for 80 yards on 14 carries. "With the offensive line all week in practice, we said `push [the Pointers], push them,' and that's what we did."
The game turned, though, on a pass by Ivory. Trailing 7-6 late in the first quarter, Joppatowne had a first-and-19 at its 40 after a holding penalty. Ivory took a pitch right and attempted to hand the ball off on a reverse but fumbled it. With Sparrows Point defenders converging on him, he picked up the ball and looked to throw.
The 5-foot-9 senior tossed an off-balance pass toward fullback Jeremy Navarre near the sideline, but as Navarre tried to catch the pass, he collided with a Pointers defensive back. The ball landed in the hands of Joppatowne receiver D.J. Klapinski, who raced untouched down the sideline to complete the 60-yard touchdown.
Sparrows Point coaches wanted Joppatowne penalized for having an illegal man downfield, but officials instead called defensive pass interference because Navarre was an eligible receiver. Joppatowne declined the penalty and took a 14-7 lead on Preston's two-point conversion run.
"I was supposed to be blocking but I came back to get the ball," Klapinski said. "I was real surprised to see the ball get there. [When it did] I just turned around and started running as fast as I could."
The play "was absolute luck, mixed in with good athletes," said Waibel, who returned to Sparrows Point for the first time since he was a student-teacher there in 1986.
The touchdown came during a string of 35 unanswered points for the Mariners, who reached the end zone on five straight possessions in a span of 26 minutes.