No.1 River Hill's balanced offense is no act

ON HIGH SCHOOLS

Varsity Football

November 24, 2006|By MILTON KENT

River Hill running back Zack Martin seemed downright apologetic the other day in explaining the keys to how the Hawks have been so dominant through the Howard County season and the first round of the Class 3A playoffs.

Martin, a junior, and his sophomore teammate, Michael Campanaro, have been so good running the ball this year that senior quarterback Dan Hostetler hasn't had many attempts to air it out.

"I know Dan hasn't been able to throw much this year, because our running game has been working real good," Martin said. "I'm sure our passing game is going to come through big for us in the playoffs, because we all know that in the playoffs, you can't just stick to one thing, and you have to be able to pass and throw. Fortunately, we have some practice with our running game."

Heading into tonight's East region final against Severna Park, Hawks coach Brian Van Deusen shares Martin's optimism that the River Hill passing game will be a vital part of the balance that has been so important to the team's 11-0 record and No. 1 ranking.

"Daniel's been throwing the ball pretty well lately," Van Deu- sen said. "That makes us a little tougher to defend, when you can't just key on one person. Our philosophy each week is `take it one game at a time, play it smart and play good football.' That's been the key for us."

The Hawks' offense has been an impressive balance, with Martin running for nearly 1,200 yards - sixth best in the area - and averaging 7.7 yards per carry and 18 rushing touchdowns, through last Friday.

Campanaro also has become a key part of the offense. He ran for 84 yards - 77 of them on a touchdown run on the second play of the game - in River Hill's 27-7 win over North Harford in the first round of the playoffs last weekend.

"The offensive line has been picking up on their assignments," Campanaro said. "Zach and me have been running and following the blocks. I'm kind of the outside runner, and he's the inside. The defenses are always on their tippy-toes for the fakes. We're a real misdirection-type offense, so you really can't key on one of us."

Hostetler has thrown for almost 800 yards and 12 touchdowns. He went 6-for-12 for 129 yards last week against North Harford, including a 58-yard touchdown pass to Campanaro.

Combine that offense with a defense that allowed an average of a touchdown a game this season, and you have a rarity: an area public school that is atop the polls and has been for the past four weeks.

"I like it [being No. 1] a lot," Campanaro said. "I've got a lot of friends who are in private schools and I talk to them a lot, so it's good to say we have bragging rights. Really, the polls don't matter that much, but it is good to see River Hill No. 1."

To stay there, the Hawks will need to maneuver their way through a tough 3A playoff bracket. The journey continues tonight with a Severna Park team that slugged it out with River Hill in last year's 3A region final in an offensive battle, settled on a Kevin Magen interception with 54 seconds left that sealed the 34-28 win for River Hill and propelled the Hawks to their first state semifinal berth.

"It was a great game," Martin said. "It was huge for us, because we had just won our first playoff game, and then going on to win the region was huge for us and for our football program. The game was back and forth and for it to end the way it did was awesome, to seal the game off with a pick in the last two minutes. It's good to have that experience to carry into this year."

The difference from last year's regional final is that River Hill will host this year's game. However, if the Hawks win, and the seeds hold up, they'll likely have to travel the next week to meet Friendly, the top seed in 3A South. River Hill's title dream ended last year in Prince George's County with a semifinal loss to Gwynn Park, and a similar finish would take some of the gloss off a remarkable run.

"It's getting to that point," Van Deusen said. "Our kids expect to win every game. Anything less than playing in that state championship game this year is going to be a disappointment. That's tough because we've had a great year and the kids should be proud of their effort. But anything less than playing on Dec. 9 will probably be tough for these kids."

milton.kent@baltsun.com

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