Experienced Warriors set sights on rare task
Special to the Whig
— A year after reaching the state championship game, where it fell to Fort Hill, 44-14, at M&T Bank Stadium, second-seeded Havre de Grace has a chance to punch a rare second consecutive ticket to the 1A title game when it hosts third-seeded Edmondson-Westside tonight at James R. Harris Stadium.
The Warriors (9-2) enter this year’s’ final four with a different mindset.
“I mean, with the exception of Fort Hill, who does it on a yearly basis (three-straight 1A state titles), I think we are all pretty excited” Havre de Grace coach Brian Eberhardt said of his team having a chance to play for another state championship. “The attitude of our team and the fact that it was so recent, we feel like we have some unfinished business. Everyone was happy that we made it [last year]. This year, we don’t want to make it, we want to win it. Our mindset is a little more determined on finishing something that we weren’t able to finish last year.”
Eberhardt and his coaching staff understand how rare these opportunities are. The program hasn’t won a state title since 1986, when it raised the trophy for the third time in school history.
“Certainly we realize that it’s rare,” Eberhardt said. “I tell our seniors, ‘You guys are in a once-in-a-lifetime
HAVRE DE GRACE
situation. If you can’t get up for this game, [then] I can’t help you. You will never play in this game again, and [for the] sophomores and juniors, you may never play in this game again.’”
For the Warriors to reach their ultimate goal, they must first take care of a tough Edmondson-Westside team from the Baltimore City League that upset South Region champion, top-seeded Reginald Lewis by outscoring their fellow Baltimore school, 40-20. Lewis had given up a combined 24 points, while shutting out eight of their previous 11 opponents, before running into the offensive fire power of the Red Storm.
Led by junior receiver Deshawn Ruffin (63 receptions for 947 yards and five touchdowns) and quarterback Teon Gardner (83 completions, 1476 yards and nine touchdowns), the Red Storm give Havre de Grace another athletic offense to prepare for.
“I think the last two teams that we played put 11 athletes on the field, and we feel like Edmondson is very similar to those two teams,” Eberhardt said. “We feel like we have some experience facing these type of teams. Jerry Lee, who is our defensive coor-
dinator, has probably seen about every kind of offense that is out there, and I’m sure he’s going to come up with a great game plan. We will go back to those [previous playoff games] to see what we did [and what] was effective.”
Eberhardt pointed to applying pressure on Gardner as being a key for his defense against the pass-happy Edmondson offense.
“Pass rush will be pretty important,” Eberhardt said. “This guy [Gardner] is a good quarterback, and they have two very good receivers who combined for 115 receptions. [It] will be a tall task for us to ask our secondary to cover guys for an extended period of time. So, if we get a combination of a pass rush and get some guys in front of his face, that will help our coverage. Pass rush is big. We played Fallston this year and they threw the ball more this year than any football team I’ve ever seen. They probably throw 35 times per game and threw three out of four plays. I had never seen anything like it.”
After turning the ball over three times last week and only being able to score six points offensively, the Warriors are in a good place knowing they can turn to their strong defense and kicking game when needed.
“We have to execute offensively and take care of the football and cannot have penalties that kill ourselves,” Eberhardt said of his team’s play last week. “We had a couple
turnovers and a couple key penalties, one that called a touchdown back. We have to be able to execute and take care of the football.”
If the Warriors are able to take care of the football, they’ll be able to notch points on most drives without touching the red zone. Junior kicker Clay Harris could etch his name in the Maryland state record book for the second time this year if he is able to add one more field goal to his season total. He needs just one field goal to tie CambridgeSouth Dorchester’s Scott Abt, who notched 13 field goals in 2010.
“I would say ‘comfortable’ as in ‘we’re definitely gonna kick this,’ would be anything in the 35-yard range,” Eberhardt said of his kicker’s range. “I definitely feel comfortable. He hits 40-plus consistently. It’s funny, because we end every pre-game practice with Clay kicking a 47-yarder.”
Eberhardt showed his confidence in his placekicker when asked about another Havre de Grace kicking record that may not withstand Harris’ senior season
“I’ll tell you what, I don’t think [the 59yard record is safe],” Eberhardt said of Havre de Grace kicker Shane West’s 2003 field goal that is the standing state record. “I think it’s square in his sights. I mean, Clay’s only a junior, so he’s going to have another year, an offseason attending camps and getting stronger. The right night and the wind
blowing in the right direction, I don’t think that’s safe from Clay. “I really don’t know how we became a kicking school, it’s just luck, I guess, I have no idea. We’ll take it. I’m not complaining.”
If the Havre de Grace offense can maintain a balanced attack and move the ball offensively, just one week after leading receiver Jordan Day (38 receptions for 708 yards and seven touchdowns) was shut down for just one reception for 13 yards, Edmondson will have trouble upsetting the host Warriors.
A balanced attack could take Red Storm defensive back Shamar Barnes out of the game, one week after he intercepted two passes, including one he returned for a 56yard touchdown.
“Fortunately, we don’t look to just Jordan Day for offense,” Eberhardt said of his offense, led by offensive coordinator Andy Downs. “If we come in with a balanced attack, Jordan will have his opportunities, whether it be first downs or touchdowns, and I think that if you come in with a solid offensive [game plan], you know we aren’t building it around one player.”
If the Red Storm were hoping on reaching the state title game at Annapolis by shutting one player down, they will be met by a host of Warriors looking to take care of unfinished business next week against Fort Hill or Kent County.
Havre de Grace defenders make a play during last season’s 1A state championship at M&T Bank Stadium. The Warriors will look to return to the title game when they host Baltimore’s Edmondson-Westside tonight in the state semifinals.