As he watched footage of Urbana quarterback Donovan Pannell, Griffin noticed the sophomore tended to lock his eyes onto his intended receiver before he made a throw, and Griffin took that information with him into Friday night.
“We knew that wherever he looked, he was probably going to go there,” Griffin said. “It was just a matter of seeing where he was looking and knowing where to go on each play.”
Griffin intercepted three passes in the second half, leading a dominant defensive effort in No. 6 River Hill’s 29-7 win over Urbana in a Maryland 3A semifinal in Clarksville.
The win is the 23rd in a row for the defending 3A champion Hawks (13-0), who will make their second straight title game appearance and fifth since 2006 when they play either No. 11 Huntingtown or Milford Mill on Thursday at 7 p.m. at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore. Those teams play in the other Maryland 3A semifinal Saturday at 1 p.m. at Milford Mill.
“It’s pretty surreal to be going back,” senior quarterback Austin Altman said. “We know when we look back on this run, it’s going to be amazing, but right now we have to focus on winning one more game.”
Altman led a balanced offensive attack Friday night, throwing for 107 yards and a touchdown while rushing for 25 yards and another score.
In a physical first half, River Hill senior Stephan Osong rushed for a 13-yard touchdown to open the scoring less than five minutes into the game. Urbana (9-3) answered after a Griffin fumble with a 10-play drive that senior Michael Dunn capped with a four-yard touchdown run to tie the game at 7-7 with 6:33 to play in the first half.
“[Urbana] was on a roll coming in,” River Hill Coach Brian Van Deusen said. “We knew it was going to take our best effort.”
Altman led an efficient 60-yard drive on River Hill’s next possession, which ended with a beautiful 35-yard touchdown pass on a fade to senior wideout Nick Ball with 2:53 to play in the second quarter.
The Hawks added a safety on a bad punt snap to take a 16-7 lead at halftime, then slowly pulled away in the second half.
“Once we got that lead, we just wanted to keep adding on,” Van Deusen said. “We had to keep our foot on the pedal.”
Trailing the entire second half, Urbana was forced to throw more than it usually does, and Griffin helped squash any chance at a comeback with his three picks.
Justin Nestor and Logan Kirby led a defensive front that held Urbana standout running back Raekwon Gray to 55 yards on 19 carries, and Altman and senior running back Justin Arn added second-half touchdown runs to ice the win.
“Our thing has been to try to get better every week,” Griffin said. “I think we’ve been doing that.”