Not particularly pleased that the Marlington football team didn’t march out of its locker room until less than a minute before the National Anthem, Hubbard fans let their impatience be known with boos.
Those changed to cheers after Hubbard stopped Marlington and scored on its first offensive series for a 7-0 lead, but the outcome wasn’t in the bag until the Eagles broke away in the third quarter for a 42-14 win in a Division III, Region 7 first-round game.
A 14-point scoring burst within 30 seconds gave Hubbard the boost it needed in winning the playoff opener.
A 16-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Brennan Wassil to Isiah Scott and George Hill’s 66-yard TD run pushed Hubbard’s lead from 14-0 to 28-0.
“With our linemen in front, you get holes like that,” Hill, a sophomore, said of his 8-for-144 night, one of which was a 48-yard TD run that included slashing, swiveling, pivoting and rotating. “Yeah, you’ve got to put a couple dance moves on the secondary.”
Even after its 7-0 advantage, Hubbard stalled despite fumble recoveries by Brandan Rivers and Jake Frost.
Early in the second half, however, back-to-back tackles by the combos of Frost and Matt Jones and then Zach Hover and Drew Bencetic gave Hubbard a jolt to get its scoring machine moving.
“We were flying to the ball,” Jones said of pressure he and Frost put on Marlington quarterback Shawn Kirk after a Hover-Bencetic attack on Dukes running back Adam Blake on the previous play.
“We knew what they were doing all week because our scout team in practice mirrored Marlington,” the 6-foot-4, 290-pound Jones said. “They couldn’t stop us.”
The two-way lineman said a message on the chalkboard in the lockerroom before the game told the Eagles all they needed to know.
“It said that, at 3:15 p.m. on Monday, we’d either turn in our uniforms or watch film,” Jones said. “Then, at halftime, we didn’t say anything because we just knew to come out and smack them in the mouth.”
Jones is a veteran of three playoff games: against Niles and Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary last year and Marlington this season.
Hubbard coach Brian Hoffman was pleased with his team’s defensive effort in the first half.
“I felt like we were assignment-sound and I was real happy with the way our kids were prepared and tackled,” Hoffman said. “Going in 14-0, I felt that, if we could come out and sustain a drive and get one more [TD] in there, we could put them away. Brennan made a nice throw on play-action and we were able to go up, 21-0,” he said of the pass play to Isiah Scott. “From that point, we started to take command.”
Hubbard’s Vlassios Pizanias had more punts than usual, booting four in the first 28 minutes.
Marlington used the shotgun formation in the first quarter, then Kirk moved under center early in the second quarter.
“We just wanted to slow the game down for him and make his reads a little easier and make his line come off [push off from the ball],” coach Ed Miley said of the series following’s Frost’s fumble recovery that set the stage for L.J. Scott’s TD run that put Hubbard up, 14-0.
“You win as a team and you lose as a team and I’m proud of these guys,“ said Miley, a seventh-year head coach.
He spoke of what could be considered a turning point, when his Dukes got behind 21-0, then had an unproductive possession.
“We had a chance to make plays, but Hubbard’s good,” Miley said.
Did the Dukes get what they expected?
“We knew we couldn’t give them [Hubbard running backs] a ton of space,” Miley said. “If you give them a crease, they can go. Those are big-time guys.”