Pictured above: Harford Tech coach Tim Palmer (center in white) addresses his squad after their 22-21 come-from-behind win over Kent Island in the 2A East Region final.
Senior Jordan Bright scores two four-quarter touchdowns as Harford Tech rallies for a playoff win over Kent Island
by Gary Adornato
For much of the first three quarters of its 2A football playoff battle with visiting Kent Island, Friday night, No. 18 Harford Tech did everything it could to hand the game away, as the Cobras committed six turnovers and fell behind 21-9 as the contest entered the fourth quarter.
Despite the adverse circumstances, the Hartord Tech defense kept the Cobras within striking distance and the offense eventually took advantage. Senior wide-out Jordan Bright caught a pair of touchdown passes from sophomore quarterback Ryan Hunter in the final quarter as Tech rallied for a thrilling 22-21 victory and a spot in next week’s 2A state semifinals. The Cobras will host Prince George’s County’s Gwynn Park, a 43-0 winner of Hereford in the 2A North final, next Saturday at 7:00 p.m.
With its undefeated season and state title aspirations clearly on the ropes, Harford Tech (12-0) began its second possession of the fourth quarter, at the 7:14 mark, on its own 33-yard line following a Kent Island punt. Hunter went to work from there, completing three consecutive passes to advance the ball across midfield to the Buccaneers’ 48-yard line. On the next play, Hunter threw a deep ball over the middle which was deflected into the air by the KI defense. On a night when most of the odd bounces went Kent Island’s way, this one favored the Cobras, as the ball caromed further down field to a streaking Bright who grabbed it and cruised the final 20 yards for a 48-yard TD reception. Bright also booted the point after and suddenly Harford Tech was alive, trailing 21-16 with 6:45 to play.
“When I saw the ball go up, it was all wobbly,” said Bright of his team’s turn-around play. “I started running over to where it was going and I figured if it gets tipped I have to be there and catch the ball. As soon as it got tipped, I was there, kept my concentration on the ball, caught it and went right in and scored.”
Kent Island (9-3) managed one first down on its next possession, but the Cobras forced a punt on the following series to get the ball back, again at their own 33, with 4:17 left on the fourth quarter clock.
Hunter completed a 9-yard pass to sophomore Laday Cooper on first down, but needed a 2-yard sneak on fourth down to move the chains. Three plays later on a third-and-one play from the Kent Island 47, Hunter connected with Bright on a short out pattern along the left sideline. Instead of going out of bounds to preserve the clock, Bright turned the ball up field, made one tackler miss and turned on the after burners for a sprint to the end zone, vaulting the Cobras into the lead for the first time since early in the second quarter. Up one a 22-21, Tech went for two but Hunter’s pass failed.
“As soon as he missed me with the tackle I just said I have to go,” said Bright. “Jeremiah Minter got the block and we scored.”
According to Bright, the team’s goal of reaching the state championship game in two weeks at Navy’s Marine Corp Stadium is the vision that kept the Cobras going when the game appeared to be slipping away.
“We were down but we said keep fighting, keep pushing, give it everything you’ve got,” said Bright. “We have to win this game to get to states. After that we started pushing, working as hard as we could and we came out with the ‘doub.’”
Kent Island began its final drive at its own 28, with 2:21 left, and thanks to a 42-yard completion from quarterback Trent Jackson to senior Sean Mooney, on a third-and-10 snap, the Bucs moved deep into Harford Tech territory. The Cobra defense, however, had one big play left, as they recorded a strip sack of Jackson and sealed the regional championship when sophomore Jonathan Fletcher dove on the loose ball.
Four of Tech’s turnovers came in a disastrous second quarter which actually began on a high note, with Bright booting a 38-yard field goal to give the Cobras a 9-7 lead with 11:53 to play in the opening half.
A muffed punt by Tech’s Jeremiah Minter gave Kent Island a first down at the Cobra 40 yard line and eight plays later Jackson connected with senior Dylan Finlay on a 16-yard touchdown pass in the front right corner of the end zone and the Buccaneers regained the lead at 14-9.
Hunter’s first pass on the ensuing drive was overthrown and Mooney intercepted it and returned the ball to the Kent Island 43. On the first snap, Jackson took advantage of a blown coverage as junior Tre’quon Thomas was left all alone in the slot. Jackson found him and Thomas had nothing but open space in front of him. The 43-yard TD pass gave the Buccaneers two scores in a span of 18 seconds and a 21-9 lead.
The Cobras survived two more Minter fumbles, one on the following kickoff and another at the end of a 38-yard reception, late in the second half, but the hosts were definitely struggling as they made their way to intermission.
The Harford Tech offense finally found some life on its second possession of the second half as junior Jalen Dangerfield and senior Kyle Cicone took turns advancing the ball in the running game, as the Cobras moved from their own 25 to the Kent Island seven. However, on the 11th play of the drive Dangerfield lost control of the football as he lunged forward near the four-yard line and Kent Island fell on it in the end zone to end the drive with 2:41 to play in the final quarter.
First year Harford Tech head coach Tim Palmer said his Cobras, despite their mistakes and the fourth quarter deficit, believed they could pull off the comeback.
“We got down early, but those guys in black jerseys have hearts of champions,” said Palmer. We believe that we’re a special team. We were concerned, but we never panicked and we knew the things we were doing were working, but the turnovers were killing us.
“We had a great drive coming out in the second half and then fumbled on that one. Even with that, no one panicked. No one got their head down. No one got discouraged and they came back and put it all together.”
Kent Island scored first in the opening quarter on a bit of a fluke play. Tech’s Cooper had excellent coverage on Mooney on a long pass play up the left sideline, but Cooper lost his footing as he reached for what appeared would be an interception. The ball deflected off of Cooper’s hands and then off of his helmet before falling to Mooney who was able to jog the final 35 yards of what turned out to be a 66-yard touchdown reception.
Harford Tech responded immediately, with Dangerfield turning a short pass from Hunter into a 61-yard TD catch and run, with 4:21 remaining in the first quarter. Bright pushed the extra-point kick wide right, as Kent Island continued to lead, 7-6.
Hunter was 14-for-19 for 241 yards and three scores, with one interception and Bright caught four balls for 99 yards. Dangerfield caught two balls for 64 yards and rushed for 49, while Cicone rushed for a team-high 68 yards.
After the game, Coach Palmer talked about Bright and Hunter.
“Jordan is a next level football player. He is a wide receiver and the County could not cover him. He is very special. He has speed, great hands and football awareness. That makes him very special. He’s going to do well at the next level.
“My sophomore quarterback. He became a man tonight. That was the first time he had faced adversity at that level. He was the JV quarterback last year and here he is leading this team to a 12-0 record and words can’t express how I feel about that kid. He really grew up.”
Mooney, in addition to his long touchdown catch, had an interception, a fumble recovery and a sack for Kent Island. Jackson was 11-for-29 for 206 yards and two touchdowns.
“That was a great victory, probably one of the most special victories I have ever been a part of,” said Palmer, who also had high praise for the Buccaneers.
“Kent Island, that is an awesome team that came in here to play. They traveled from the Eastern Shore to here. They got off that bus and they came here to get a W. They came here to win and from start to finish they played fast; they played furious and they pushed us through all.”
2A EAST REGION FOOTBALL CHAMPIONSHIP
NO. 18 HARFORD TECH 22, KENT ISLAND 21
KI 7 14 0 0 — 21
HT 6 3 0 13 — 22
KI – Sean Mooney 66 pass from Trent Jackson (Joe Garvey kick)
HT – Jalen Dangerfield 61 pass from Ryan Hunter (kick failed)
HT – Jordan Bright 38 FG
KI – Dylan Finlay 16 pass from Jackson (Garvey kick)
KI – Tre’quon Thomas 57 pass from Jackson (Garvey kick)
HT – Bright 48 pass from Hunter (Bright kick)
HT – Bright 47 pass from Hunter (pas failed)