Hawks serve notice with 42-6 rout; Champion scores 3 TDs

River Hill running back Austin Abraham breaks off a run during the second half of Thursday’s Howard County football match with Long Reach. The 11th-ranked Hawks rushed for more than 200 yards in a 42-6 rout of the No. 10 Lightning in Clarksville.

Around this time a year ago, River Hill High football was at a bit of a crossroads. The Hawks have found their way and appeared to be back among the best in Howard County.

The No. 11 Hawks demolished 10th-ranked Long Reach, 42-6, in a HoCo Thursday night special in Clarksville. Senior quarterback Luke Champion had three rushing scores for River Hill (4-0 overall and Howard), and Brendan McKenna finished with 146 total yards.

The Hawks turned the battle for first in Howard into a laughter, putting up a running clock in the final quarter. River Hill and Howard are the only unbeaten left in the league.

“We really thought this was going to be a tough game,” said Hawks coach Brian Van Deusen. “We knew when the schedule came out that Long Reach was going to be looking for us after we upset them in the playoffs last year. We certainly didn’t expect this outcome.”

“I think a lot of people had some doubts about us coming into the game and we knew this game would tell what we’re made of,” said Champion. “I think it did.”

The Hawks rushed for more than 200 yards as their offensive line featuring senior Max Carlson (5-foot-11, 200 pounds), junior Jack Island (5-8, 170), senior Alex Florenzo (6-0, 230), senior Kai Uecker (6-3, 225), and sophomore Ethan Browne (6-1, 205; filling in 6-foot, 265-pound Anand Ambrosi) deftly mastered Long Reach’s bigger front. Their defense produced three interceptions and six sacks and kept Lightning all-league running back LaDarrian Booker, arguably the league’s most explosive offensive performer, under wraps.

“We know we have a lot of seniors in our lineup and we want to come out and make a statement,” said senior linebacker Connor McCullough, who had two sacks and an interception. “A lot of people were doubting us, especially Long Reach. They really thought they were going to blow us out.”

River Hill defeated the Lightning, 20-14, in the Class 3A East Region semifinals in Columbia. After a 20-10 loss to Long Reach last regular season, River Hill was 3-3 and struggling with injuries.

The Hawks are 8-1 since. Van Deusen said having a healthy senior tight end/linebacker Tyler Finkelston and quarterback Brett Shaw has been a big difference this season.

“Everybody doubt us because of our size,” said McKenna, a 6-foot 175-pound halfback/cornerback.

River Hill’s offensive line methodically wore down for Long Reach for a pair of 70-yard drives in the first half with Champion capping both with touchdown runs. The Hawks made it 21-0 midway in the third as McKenna, off a double handoff, went 63 yards down the sidelines.

Booker got Long Reach (3-1, 3-1 Howard) on the board with a 28-yard scampered, capping a four-play, 50-yard series. On a 3rd down-and-9, McKenna hauled in Champion’s pass for a 30-yard gain. Four plays later, Champion was in the end zone for a yard out for a 28-6 lead with 2 minutes, 10 seconds remaining in the third.

Game over. The Lightning lost the ball three times, including a kickoff that hit off a Long Reach player and was recovered by the Hawks. River Hill possessed the ball the final 11:05 of regulation.

“We just didn’t come out with any fire or intensity,” said Lightning coach Jamie Willis. “We’re a much better football team than we showed today, but they’re [River Hill] a good football team. They’re well-coached and playing lights out right now.”

No. 11 River Hill 42, No. 10 Long Reach 6

First quarter

Connor McCullough (left), Brendan McKenna and Luke Champion had big performances for River Hill Thursday evening. The Hawks are off to a 4-0 start for the first time since 2014.

River Hill –┬áChampion 5 run (McGeehan kick)

Second quarter

River Hill – Champion 2 run (McGeehan kick)

Third quarter

River Hill – McKenna 63 run (McGeehan kick)

Long Reach – Booker 28 run (Jean kick)

Fourth quarter

River Hill – Shaw 5 run (McGeehan kick)

River Hill – Windsor 2 run (McGeehan kick)