Harford Tech 32 — Easton 23

BEL AIR — The end hurts, especially when it’s not expected.

“I’m a little stunned,” Easton High head football coach Pat McGlinchey said. “I didn’t expect to lose that game. I thought we should have won the game. I thought we were going to win the game.”

But a harassing defense, big plays, and Kelvin Mendez’ 23-carry, 222-yard, three-touchdown rushing performance helped third-seeded Harford Tech to a 32-23 victory over No. 6 Easton in the chill of Cobra Stadium Friday night in a Class 2A East Region quarterfinal.

The Cobras (9-1) advance to Friday’s 2A East semifinal round, and will play at second-seeded North Caroline (10-0).

“They put pressure on our quarterback,” said McGlinchey, who watched junior Ryan O’Connor get dropped behind the line of scrimmage nine times. “It was eerily similar to like North Caroline kind of pressure. Sometimes we picked them up. Other times we didn’t. In the first half we were really struggling with it.”

Despite that first-half pressure, the Warriors (6-4) and Cobras went into halftime tied 6-6.

After a scoreless first quarter, Harford Tech took a 6-0 lead, when Mendez swept around right end, found an open sideline and blazed 57 yards with 2 minutes, 16 seconds left. Easton was flagged for roughing quarterback Ryan Hunt on the two-point conversion attempt, giving the Cobras another chance. But the Warriors stuffed Eddie Medina’s two-point run, keeping it a six-point deficit.

Easton responded with a 66-yard scoring drive that was aided by a pass interference penalty on Harford Tech. O’Connor broke loose for a 19-yard gain to the Cobras’ 6-yard line, and two plays later, on third-and-goal, snuck in from a yard out to tie the game 6-all with 39.4 seconds remaining in the half. Brogan Stofa’s point-after attempt banged off the left upright and fell in front of the crossbar.

The Warriors caught a break when Harford Tech mishandled the second-half kickoff and Jonathon Pope recovered at the Cobras 23. O’Connor (16 of 32, 169 yards, two touchdowns, one interception) was dropped for a 4-yard loss on first down, but then connected with Grant Copper (7 receptions, 106 yards) for a 12-yard pickup. O’Connor picked up two yards on a fourth-and-one, hit Copper with a 12-yard touchdown pass, then found his junior wideout again for the two-point conversion pass and a 14-6 lead with 9:43 left in the third quarter.

Harford Tech answered via the big play on third-and-seven, as Hunt (11 of 17, 177 yards, one touchdown, one interception) hit Terrill Lowery (8-138) for a 64-yard gain to the Warriors 3. Two plays later, Mendez swept around left end for a 2-yard touchdown run, but Easton again stopped the two-point conversion attempt for a 14-12 lead.

Easton drove from its 36 to the Cobra 8, where the march stalled, bringing on Stofa for a 27-yard field goal that extended the lead to 17-12 with 4:03 to go in the third quarter.

Harford Tech came back with a pair of touchdowns over the next 1:50 of game clock to take a lead it never surrendered.

After back-to-back runs by Mendez, Hunt connected with a wide-open Lowery for a 44-yard touchdown pass and an 18-17 Cobras lead — Hunt’s pass on the two-point conversion attempt fell incomplete.

After an Easton three-and-out, Mendez was sprung for a 23-yard gain before Jhalil Cooper dashed around left end for a 19-yard touchdown run. Tyler Long’s extra-point kick stretched Harford Tech’s lead to 25-17 with 1:03 left in the third.

Easton didn’t wilt.

Starting from its 24, O’Connor hit Copper for an 18-yard gain. Jarin Winters (11 carries, 46 yards, 4 receptions, 35 yards) picked up six yards on a third-and-seven catch, but a personal foul penalty on the Cobras gave the Warriors a first down at the Harford Tech 34. After O’Connor was sacked for a 2-yard loss on third-and-five, Winters took the snap from center, zipped a lateral to O’Connor, who fired a 31-yard touchdown pass to Copper to pull Easton within 25-23 with 9:51 left. Easton tried for two, but O’Connor’s pass was incomplete.

Harford Tech converted two big third-downs on a drive that ate up almost six minutes of clock, but ended with Shawn Warner — who had a second-quarter interception — breaking up a fourth-down pass play, giving Easton the ball at its 22 with 3:52 remaining.

O’Connor was sacked for a 5-yard loss on first down, but threw an 18-yard strike to Copper on third down to extend the drive. O’Connor picked up 14 yards on a run, but three plays later, on third-and-nine, was intercepted by Manuel Reyes with 1:21 left.

“Even when Ryan would make his break, he’d normally get a cut in there and every time he’d get a cut ... they were really quick,” McGlinchey said of Harford Tech’s defense. “It was like a bunch of linebackers on the line. They did what they had to do and it affected us.

“They had eight or nine guys on the line, and then they’d have a linebacker or a safety kind of off the line,” McGlinchey continued. “You didn’t know who was going to come. Sometimes they sent everybody. Sometimes it worked. We were more effective I think running the ball a little bit. But when we were down we were throwing the ball more. We had to.”

Easton burned its final two timeouts after gains of five and two yards by Mendez, bringing up third-and-two, where the sophomore running back again found an open alley down the sideline and broke free for a 72-yard touchdown sprint with 57.3 seconds left. Long’s PAT made it 32-23.

“It was just kind of a situation, where every time we kind of got close to them, or even when we were up, they had some big plays on offense,” McGlinchey said.

“I’m really proud of the kids. The kids fought the entire time,” McGlinchey said. “They never gave up even at the end when they scored that touchdown. Their heads never went down. That speaks volumes to the younger guys that were on the team that maybe didn’t get as much play time this year. They saw how much effort it does take to be a winning program.

“And those guys saw how the seniors led this year, and that speaks volumes for them,” McGlinchey said. “They’ve got to come out hungry next year because the senior group is a great group of young men. Fifteen guys, and I would say 13 of them were players, and that’s going to be a hard thing to replace next year.”

Follow me on Twitter @Bill_Haufe. Email me at bhaufe@stardem.com

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