By MARK KELLER
11:44 PM EST, November 9, 2012
It’s been said that a close loss is much harder to take than a blowout.
North Hagerstown football coach Dan Cunningham wasn’t going to argue with that on Friday night.
The Hubs went into their Maryland Class 3A West semifinal game at Seneca Valley as decided underdogs — a Washington County team against a perennial football power with 12 state titles to its credit.
Instead, North pushed the Screamin’ Eagles to the limit before coming up short, 12-7.
“These kids battled tonight,” Cunningham said. “I think we shocked a lot of people. This group of kids battled all year. They gave new meaning to the word effort.
“Seneca Valley knows we were here tonight.”
The hurt was evident on the faces of North players, who comforted each other and sought out coaches for hugs. Some tried to hide their tears, others did not.
It was the culmination of an emotional night, one that saw the Hubs (9-2) with their backs to the wall from the very beginning of the game.
And despite that, the Hubs had an opportunity to take the lead late.
After stopping Seneca Valley (10-1) on a fourth-down play at the Hubs 21, North took over with 2:58 remaining.
Nick Karlen completed a nice jump pass to Roland Renner for a 22-yard gain and Isaiah Keyes followed with a 22-yard run to move the ball into Eagles territory. But on second down from the Eagles 31, Karlen didn’t spot Jamir Wilson lurking in coverage. Wilson leaped up and picked off Karlen, icing the game for Seneca Valley with 1:11 left.
“It’s not about the interception, it’s not about any one play,” Cunningham said. “It’s certainly not Nick’s fault or anyone else’s. We just lost to a better team.”
Earlier in the fourth, Karlen connected with Tre Anderson on a 72-yard touchdown pass to pull the Hubs within 12-7.
That play came just one play after Seneca Valley had taken a 12-0 advantage.
After stopping Seneca Valley on the initial drive of the game, the Eagles pinned the Hubs deep in their own end with a punt that went out of bounds at the 1-yard line.
Things looked worse when North running back Kyle Hewlett was hit and fumbled the ball at the Hubs’ 6 and Seneca Valley recovered.
But the North defense met the challenge, dropping Kellen Hoerauf-Staton on a third-and-goal play from the 1. On fourth down, Tre Anderson read the Seneca Valley play perfectly and came off the right edge to drop workhorse running back Kevin Joppy for a 3-yard loss as the Hubs regained possession.
North went three and out and punted. The kick went off the side of Keyes’ foot and traveled just 17 yards, giving Seneca Valley outstanding field position again.
But on first down, Neicco Howard fumbled and Keyes was on the spot, covering the loose ball for the Hubs.
“Our defense played super. (Seneca Valley) is a good football team, a really good team,” Cunningham said. “For us to battle field position all night, on the road at a place like Seneca Valley, to make those kinds of defensive stands is huge.”
Seneca Valley did break through early in the second quarter as Hoerauf-Staton broke loose for a 23-yard touchdown run. The kick failed and the Eagles led 6-0.
North bounced back, driving from their 35 all the way down to the Seneca Valley 5. Keyes had a 19-yard run in the drive and Preston Carey found the edge for gains of 9 and 28 yards. But on third-and-3 from the Eagles 5, a backwards pass from Karlen to Anderson was sniffed out by the defense, which dropped Anderson for an 8-yard loss.
“The bad part is we don’t see speed like that, with the pursuit angles and the way they fly to the ball,” Cunningham said. “We just don’t get to see that on a weekly basis.”
Mark Grunberg set up for a 30-yard field goal from the right hash, but the left-footed kicker booted it wide right and North came up empty.
North’s defense handled Seneca Valley’s hurry-up offense well, forcing another punt and getting an interception by Gabe Fridgen to send the game to halftime with the score still at 6-0.
“I think the kids represented Washington County well. They fought their butts off,” Cunningham said. “They’re very dedicated. They just fight and fight and fight.”
Seneca Valley 12, North Hagerstown 7
N. Hagerstown 0 0 0 7 — 7
Sen. Valley 0 6 0 6 — 12
SV—Kellen Hoerauf-Staton 23 run (kick failed)
SV—Neicco Howard 1 run (pass failed)
NH—Tre Anderson 72 pass from Nick Karlen (Mark Grunberg kick)
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