Size was supposed to be the key factor in Friday night’s 1A state semifinal showdown between the Havre de Grace Warriors and Brunswick Railroaders, but not many thought about size’s counterpart; speed.
And it was with that speed that Warrior senior runningback Michael Kelly destroyed the Railroader defense for 289 yards on the ground, dragging the Warriors on his coattails to a 34-14 1A state championship berth.
“We just had to play hard and ride the coattails of Michael Kelly,” Havre de Grace coach Johnny Brooks said. “He carried us and did a great job. Monty [Werts] did an exceptional job on the defense in applying pressure on the quarterback, and they just worked as one unit.”
Havre de Grace learned early that their normally dominant passing game was not going to be the answer to a Friday night win, marching more than 40 yards before turning the ball over on downs inside the 20 and giving up and interception at the five-yard-line to allow the Railroaders’ their only scoring drive of the night.
But trialing 7-0, Kelly broke off a 42-yard run to the recurrently successful right-side to drag the Warriors to 91 yards of his own rushing in the first quarter, and set up a 10-yard scramble by junior quarterback Darin Washington to tie the game, 7-7 early midway through the second quarter.
The Havre de Grace defense held tough cut down the out-sized offense, allowing just 64 yards on the ground and 56 yards in the air for the first half, allowing Kelly enough time to put the Warriors ahead before the half, 14-7, with a 53-yard dash to the endzone, capping more than 100 yards in the second quarter and over 190 for the half.
“The right side of the line was doing an excellent job,” Kelly said. “We ran to that side a lot, so they were doing a great job and the receivers were blocking the corners.”
The second half found the Warriors playing a confused Brunswick squad, not certain why they could not use their size to bulldoze through the Havre de Grace defense, and Kelly was there to pick up nearly 100 more yards in the second half for his 289-yard performance.
“We were just getting the job done. It felt like I was faster than anybody,” explained Kelly, whose longest rushes of the night were two 53-yard touchdown blasts that saw him being chased by the other 21 players on the field. “I felt like I was the fastest man on the field, tonight.”
Following Kelly’s second touchdown for a 20-1 lead, you could hear the coaches and players on the Warrior sideline saying it happens once a game as senior Railroader Tyrus Lawson returned the kickoff 86 yards to close the gap, 20-14.
Hard hitting and solid pass-rushing saw the Warriors forcing the 6-foot-6inch, 255-pound monster of a quarterback to fumble the ball late in the third quarter, leading to the bright point of Havdre de Grace’s passing performance.
“I felt like I was trying to take down an NFL quarterback,” said Werts, who held the only single-sack of the night. “Our coverage downfield gave me time to get to the quarterback, I just had to stay focused and hit him as hard as I could without dropping my head. Just hit him low and make sure he was down.”
Prior to the fumble, the Warriors had traveled had just one pass longer than 15 yards on the night, rivaling two first-half interceptions, but Washington ended the night with 149 yards in the air and one 37-yard touchdown strike to senior receiver Dayshawn Bolling.
Washington’s pass to Bolling found the quick senior near the 15-yard-line, and the level-headed receiver went over his defender to grab the ball and stumbled long enough to dive over the goalline and record the 32-14 touchdown.
Havre de Grace now finds itself playing for its first state title sine 1988, a time that no current Warrior player can recall.
“It has been a while,” brooks admitted. “They weren’t even born, so they don’t even know, and I just get tired of talking about it, I just want to tall about there here and now.
“Here we have a short list of kids, so it is all about working for two hours and they know it. Coaches do an excellent job and everybody is expected to do their part. Some people come early, others stay late, but it is expected. That’s what we do.”
The Warriors will next play at M&T Bank Stadium, home of the Baltimore Ravens, Saturday, not knowing yet who they will be facing.
“We don’t know our opponent yet, but we just have to do what we do. The only thing that stops us is us,” Brooks said. “We have been knocking on the door for years, and I’m just happy for the kids; happy for them to get the opportunity to play at states.”
|Havre de Grace 34, Brunswick 14|
|BRUN-Price 10 pass from Fisher (Rolland kick)|
|HDG-Washington 10 run (Weismiller kick)|
|HDG-Kelly 53 run (Weismiller kick)|
|HDG-Kelly 53 run (kick failed)|
|BRUN-Lawson 86 kick return (Rolland kick)|
|HDG-Kelly 3 run (conversion failed)|
|HDG-Bolling 37 pass from Washignton (Werts 2 pass from Washington)|