Elks to face Bull­dogs in re­gion fi­nal re­match

Cecil Whig - - SPORTS - By JOR­DAN SCHATZ

jschatz@ce­cil­whig.com

— 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

ELK­TON

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

CE­CIL WHIG FILE PHOTO

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.

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