Elks be­gin re­gion ti­tle de­fense against Co­bras

Cecil Whig - - SPORTS - Jschatz@ce­cil­whig.com

ELK­TON — A de­fen­sive mas­ter­piece on the road is how the Elk­ton foot­ball team has opened the post­sea­son each of the past two years.

Sparked by first-round shutouts over higher seeds, the Golden Elks have ad­vanced to the re­gion final in back-toback years, in­clud­ing last sea­son, when the Ce­cil County pro­gram ad­vanced to the 2A state cham­pi­onship game for the first time since 2000.

Third-seeded Elk­ton (8-2) will be aim­ing for a sim­i­lar start to this year’s post­sea­son when it trav­els to play No. 2 Har­ford Tech (10-0) tonight in the 2A East Re­gion semi­fi­nals. It marks the third­straight year that the Elks will start the play­offs on the road as the re­gion’s third seed.

“We’ll lean on [play­off ex­pe­ri­ence] and we’ll re­mind the guys that we’ve been here be­fore and we’ve played in big games, es­pe­cially on the road. We’ve played a lot of big games on the road and we can’t let the lights get to us,” Elk­ton head coach Matt Feeney said. “Some of the older guys, some of the guys who were re­ally vi­tal on the run last year, they know what it takes. Kind of our off­sea­son mes­sage was ‘We want to get back to where we were and we can’t let the mo­ment be too big.’ Here’s test No. 1 for the mo­ment be­ing too big. I think they’re look­ing for­ward to this game.”

Elk­ton will en­ter hav­ing com­peted in six play­off games over the past two years, while the host Co­bras are mak­ing their first-ever post­sea­son ap­pear­ance in the nearly 40-year his­tory of the Har­ford County pro­gram.

Har­ford Tech se­cured the open­ing-round home game af­ter the Elks, who needed a vic­tory in their reg­u­larsea­son fi­nale to cap­ture the re­gion’s sec­ond seed, fell to C.M. Wright, 14-13.

As a re­sult, Elk­ton will be with­out a pair of key se­nior starters, in­clud­ing 2016 con­sen­sus All-State run­ning back Raiquon Estep, who have been banned from play­ing games in Har­ford County all sea­son due to their in­volve­ment in an al­ter­ca­tion that oc­curred fol­low­ing a play­off bas­ket­ball game be­tween the two schools in Fe­bru­ary.

“If we would have taken care of busi­ness on Fri­day night this wouldn’t even be a story. We would be play­ing at home and none of this would be an is­sue. We didn’t get the job done and that left a re­ally sour taste in our mouths as an en­tire pro­gram,” Feeney said. “At this point, we’re not get­ting hung up on it be­ing Har­ford Tech. We’re look­ing at a 10-0 foot­ball team that de­serves to be host­ing this game and we have to go down there and play our brand of foot­ball and hope­fully come out with a win.”

Elk­ton went un­beaten in its three reg­u­lar-sea­son games played in Har­ford County this year with­out Estep or 2016 All-County lineman Travias Smith. Their team­mates are once again pre­pared to hit the road with­out them.

“Just like be­fore, it’s al­ways [un­for­tu­nate] not to be able to play with one of your broth­ers that you’ve been play­ing with for so long, but we have to go in there and win this game for [Estep] and for Tazz [Smith] and for our­selves,” Elks se­nior quar­ter­back/re­ceiver Ray John­son said. “We’re con­fi­dent in our guys that we’ve put in their po­si­tions. We feel pretty great about how ev­ery­thing’s look­ing, how every- thing’s com­ing to­gether with­out them. We’ve al­ready had some ex­pe­ri­ence, it’s not like it’s a brand new thing.

“It doesn’t re­ally change much be­cause the guys we put into their po­si­tions can get the job done, but it is chal­leng­ing be­cause there are some skills that Ray brings to the ta­ble—ex­plo­sive­ness, agility—and some char­ac­ter­is­tics that Tazz brings to the ta­ble, like his strength and how big he is, but you just over­come those chal­lenges by hav­ing heart and strength and play­ing our foot­ball.”

Elk­ton topped 3A North play­off team Edge­wood on the road in Week 5 of the reg­u­lar sea­son be­fore clos­ing out the year with road wins over North Har­ford and Aberdeen in the clos­ing weeks of the cam­paign. Tonight will be the tough­est test yet as it faces the un­de­feated Susque­hanna Di­vi­sion cham­pi­ons.

“When we saw that we can win [with­out our team­mates] our con­fi­dence went up. Not that we don’t need them, but we’ve seen we can come to­gether as a team when they’re not there,” se­nior safety Mike Matthews said. “To lose them is painful be­cause I’ve been play­ing with them since I was 7. To lose them in a play­off game is hard. We’re go­ing to fight so they can play next week.”

With­out its lead­ing scorer suit­ing up on of­fense, Elk­ton will turn to its de­fense to set the tone tonight against a Co­bras of­fense that av­er­aged 40 points per con­test. Last Novem­ber, the Elks shut out Queen Anne’s County, 12-0, in the re­gion semi­fi­nals, with Estep rush­ing for a pair of sec­ond-half touch­downs.

The two scores kicked off a mem­o­rable four-game run for Estep, who fin­ished last year’s post­sea­son with 770 rush­ing yards and 10 touch­downs. He ended his ju­nior cam­paign with 2,594 rush­ing yards and 33 touch­downs, pil­ing up the ninth-most rush­ing yards in a sin­gle sea­son in state his­tory.

“The idea on Fri­day is that we have to play a lit­tle bit of a dif­fer­ent style than we played most of the year. It’s play­off time, the in­ten­sity has to turn up. Ev­ery­thing that we’ve been do­ing, it has to be am­pli­fied—and not just from a player’s stand­point but from a coach’s stand­point. We can’t just go in there and do the same old, same old. When you go up against a good team, they’re go­ing to pick apart your ten­den­cies and pick apart your weak­nesses” Feeney said. “That’s kind of been our M.O. every year, is that we look back and re­flect on what we’ve done de­fen­sively and we try to present the of­fense with a lit­tle bit of a curve­ball. That’s kind of the mind­set and that’s what we’re look­ing to do this week.”

On of­fense, the Elks will turn to a trio of run­ning backs to fill the void left by Estep. Matthews, sopho­more tail­back/line­backer Tashawn Wat­ters and fresh­men Gregg Triplett III will likely share ball-car­rier du­ties af­ter earn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence dur­ing the reg­u­lar sea­son.

Estep has no doubts his team­mates will take ad­van­tage of the play­ing time.

“Gregg, a fresh­man, I think he can han­dle him­self. Mike, he can play any po­si­tion, so he’ll be able to han­dle him­self back there, and Tashawn, he plays run­ning back, so they’re good enough,” said Estep, who plans to fol­low along with the game on so­cial me­dia. “It’s not too [painful miss­ing the game] be­cause I trust that they’re go­ing to go down there and win.”

Fol­low Jor­dan Schatz on Twit­ter: @Jor­dan_Whig


With star run­ning back Raiquon Estep not play­ing, sopho­more Tashawn Wat­ters (3) will likely share back­field du­ties with sev­eral of his team­mates tonight when third-seeded Elk­ton bat­tles host No. 2 Har­ford Tech in the 2A East Re­gion semi­fi­nals.

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