Elks to face Bulldogs in region final rematch
— When members of the Elkton football team entered the school’s weight room to take part in summer workouts, they were greeted by a hand-written message waiting for them on the whiteboard.
11-20-15. Remember that date.
The Golden Elks coaching staff scribbled out the message to remind their players of the previous November, when the team’s magical season came to a heartbreaking conclusion at the hands of North Caroline in the 2A East Region Final.
One year after the Bulldogs knocked them out of the postseason, the Elks are once again entering the ring for a heavyweight fight with North Caroline in the 2A East Region Final.
For many of the Elkton players, it’s a shot at redemption.
“All my best friends were seniors last year and I can remember the whole last quarter [of the region final] like it’s in the back of my head. I’ve been waiting for this game ever since it ended. We had it up in the weight room and everything,” Elkton senior offensive lineman Kyle Karnes said. “I’m doing it for my brothers, I’m doing it for my town, I’m doing it for everybody.”
Third-seeded Elkton (101) will host North Caroline (9-2) tonight under the
bright lights of Elkton High, where the Elks are undefeated this season.
A win would place the Elks in the state semifinals for the first time since 2012.
“What I like is it’s a really good football team that’s going to give us a challenge and that’s got the boys up,” Elkton coach Matt Feeney said. “It doesn’t matter who it is, it’s more of the quality of the team that we’re going to play. They’re going to be the best team that we’ve played all year by far. I’m excited about that for the boys.”
If the Elks’ 12-0 road win over Queen Anne’s last Friday is any indication, the Bulldogs are also likely in for their toughest test of the season. A week ago, Elkton held the Lions to just 71 yards rushing as part of a defensive masterpiece in which the opposition failed to move the football past the Elks’ 35-yard line.
Offensively, junior Raiquon Estep rushed for 164 yards and two touchdowns on 28 carries as Elkton found the end zone twice in the third quarter to punch its return ticket to the region final.
“I’m looking at Elkton on film and I’ve seen a lot of the same kids from the end of last year who just grew a little bit bigger, a little bit faster, a little more experienced. In watching them from the beginning of the season to the end of the season and they are a completely different team. They’re doing things much better now fundamentally, they seemed to have found their identity both on offense and especially on defense and they’re playing some pretty good football, so we’re going to have our hands full from that standpoint,” said North Caroline coach James McCormick, whose team advanced to the region final after upsetting top-seeded Kent Island, 14-7. “But the other side of it is, our kids have been there before, we
played Elkton last year in the regional finals and we were fortunate enough to get a win in it. Both teams have experience, both teams are good and it’s going to be a heck of a game.”
Just one week after Estep rushed for 9 yards on five carries in a scoreless first half against Queen Anne’s, the Elkton offense will aim for a faster start tonight.
“Ray literally can run into a 6-inch gap if he has to. It’s literally we’ve got to get man on man to be able to hold our blocks. Not so much we need to blow them all the way off the field, but we just need to get on bodies,” Karnes said. “I think last week was definitely a confidence booster after
the second half when we came out and fired on all cylinders. We can handle [North Caroline], I think we can, but it’s only if we go out there and actually do it and execute everything.” Feeney agreed. “It’s [an offensive] unit, and what we’ve been facing this year, with us having slow starts, is that one part is just not doing what they need to do. We get it fixed and we start to click,” he said. “Well let’s just do that from the kick. When we get the ball the first time, let’s do our jobs. That’s what the guys [in the locker room] are saying. They’re saying, ‘Coach, we’re going to execute this week.’ If they do, we’ll be OK with the result.”
According to Elkton senior quarterback Jackson Argoe, the team’s passing game may have the biggest inpact on the Cecil squad’s ability to move the ball on the ground.
“Help Ray is the mindset. I need to do whatever I can to take the load off the run game, and hopefully the receivers and the line can give us some time to make plays and then open things up for Ray,” said Jackson, who finshed last week 7-for-12 passing for 91 yards and an interception. “[North Caroline is] big and physical. They like to stop the run game, so hopefully we can loosen them up, open them up with the pass to open Ray’s lanes up a little more.”
McCormick gave his opionion on what it will take for his defense to contain Elkton’s offense.
“A lot of praying, probably,” he joked. “They’re good. Up front they’re pretty good and obviously the Estep kid is pretty good. What makes them better is the fact that they have a lot of speed and talent on the outside and a quarterback that can throw the ball pretty well.
That tends to open things up a little bit for that run game. But Estep, the kid’s good. We’re going to have to come up with something and our kids are going to have to play a heck of a ball game to keep him under wraps.”
The Bulldogs will dig in with their own talented offense, led by junior running back David Bailey, who rushed for 114 yards on 23 carries in the team’s win over the Buccaneers.
“They have that [Bailey] kid, he’s pretty big, and they have a pretty big, disciplined offensive line. We just have to read our keys and fill the holes,” Elkton senior linebacker Joe Scuderi said. “North Caroline has a bigger line and bigger kids that handle the ball [than Queen Anne’s], but Queen Anne’s did have a bigger quarterback that did some lead blocking on some plays and that
was challenging. We’ve just got to follow the game plan that [defensive coordinator Dick] Achuff gave us and make sure we don’t blow up field and give them holes and areas to stick their feet in the field and turn it up.”
For Scuderi, whose fumble recovery in the first quarter against Queen Anne’s helped set an early defensive tone, tonight’s game will be his first time experiencing a region championship after he missed last year’s contest with a knee injury.
“We just need to come out the same way we did against Queen Anne’s and make sure we don’t fall behind at all and give up touchdowns,” the linebacker said. “This year it’s a big redemption game for me and the rest of us.”
Follow Jordan Schatz on Twitter: @Jordan_Whig
An Elkton defender and a North Caroline ball carrier collide during last year’s 2A East Region Final. Both teams will rematch tonight in the same round.