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Frederick Douglass High running back Josef Hinnant couldn't deal with the fumble.
He dropped a pitch from Eagles' quarterback Taitor Reynolds in the second quarter on Friday afternoon that led to a touchdown by Crossland. In a crucial midseason game, here was Hinnant, debating whether to change his gloves or forgo them entirely -- debating how to not drop the ball.
The only debate there was by the end of Douglass' 32-24 victory against Crossland was which running back was more valuable to his team: Hinnant or Crossland's Robert Mercer.
On a warmer-than-usual October afternoon, the Eagles scored 16 points in the fourth quarter to break open a close game and hold on for a pivotal victory. For Class 2A Douglass (4-2 overall, 4-1 in the County 3A/2A/1A League) the win against Class 3A Crossland (3-3, 2-2) provides a solid boost in the push for a playoff spot. The Cavaliers, on the other hand, have lost three of their last four after starting with a 2-0 mark.
“I feel real fortunate that we can come away with a win and have sloppy plays like that,” said Douglass coach J.C. Pinkney, whose team committed three turnovers. “I don't feel good about our performance. We have to do a better job of finishing our drives, protecting the football and decision-making.”
Hinnant, a senior, carried 17 times for 169 yards and two touchdowns, including the go-ahead score. Mercer, who entered the game as Prince George's County's leading rusher, was limited to 45 yards on 15 carries. But that doesn't tell the whole story.
In the second half, he carried three times for 12 yards and didn't receive a handoff after the 8:32 mark of the third quarter. Mercer's workload was significantly lightened by Crossland coach Brian Goodall's decision to pass. Cavaliers' quarterback Quinton Green attempted 13 passes in the second half and was intercepted twice by Douglass defensive back Matthew Paul. Green completed 8 of 22 passes for 48 yards and was picked off three times.
“I owe it all to my defensive line,” Paul said of his interceptions. “They forced a sloppy pass and I was able to make the plays.”
The decision to pass was intriguing given the way Crossland possessed the ball in the first half, and that the teams were tied 8-8 at the break. Crossland only trailed 16-8 when it started throwing.
“I did go away from the run,” Goodall said. “I thought we would mix it up a little bit and keep them off balance. Subconsciously, I think we should have stayed with the run. We were banging them out pretty good. We should have stayed with it.”
With Mercer not getting the ball, Hinnant stole the show and atoned for the first-half fumble with a 15-yard touchdown run with 6:25 remaining to put Douglass ahead, 32-18. The 5-foot-8, 160-pound back completed two highlight-reel runs in the game. The first was a 30-yard touchdown scamper in the first quarter. He appeared bottled up in the backfield, but made several would-be tacklers miss before darting upfield. Hinnant then spun at the 20-yard line and sprinted to the outside for the score.
“[Crossland] surprised me,” Hinnant said. “I didn't think they were going to come out like that. They gave us a good game. It gives us confidence. It was a sloppy win. We know we've got to hold on to the ball better than that, but we're going to do whatever we can to get into the playoffs.”
Hinnant's other run was a speedy burst through the middle for 45 yards and a sure touchdown, but he was caught from behind and fumbled for the second time in the game. Douglass wide receiver Paul Harris pounced on the loose ball and the Eagles scored on the next play. Harris also caught a touchdown pass from Reynolds in the fourth quarter to put Douglass ahead, 24-16.
“Joe is a tremendous kid,” Pinkney said of Hinnant. “He plays hard, he practices hard. He had the fumbles, but he still found a way to make things happen.”
Crossland wasn't without its chances, especially after cornerback Cornell Duncan returned an interception 102 yards for a touchdown to tie the game at 16-16 late in the third quarter.
“After that right there, we had them on the ropes,” Goodall said. “It was a done deal after that. Instead of going out there and putting it to them, we let them off the hook a little bit.”
Douglass quickly thwarted Crossland's momentum with a long scoring drive and took advantage of five Crossland turnovers. After the game, many of the Cavaliers' players had tears in their eyes on what was senior day in Temple Hills.
“If I didn't see nobody cry, if I didn't see anybody with tears in their eyes, I would know these guys weren't taking it seriously,” Goodall said. “This is where their heart's at.
Douglass 32, Crossland 24
Douglass (4-2, 4-1) 8 0 8 16 32
Crossland (3-3, 2-2) 0 8 8 8 24
D: Josef Hinnant 30 run (Hinnant run)
C: Andre' Womack 13 pass from Quinton Green (Robert Mercer run)
D: Chris Wilson 1 run (Rasool Mason from Taitor Reynolds)
C: Cornell Duncan 102 interception return (Mercer run)
D: Paul Harris 12 pass from Reynolds (Hinnant run)
D: Hinnant 15 run (Reynolds run)
C: Robert Moore 36 pass from Duncan (Mercer run)
PASSING: D -- Taitor Reynolds 2-5-1-12. C -- Quinton Green 8-22-3-48, Cornell Duncan 2-3-0-72
RUSHING: D -- Josef Hinnant 17-169, Taitor Reynolds 10-37, Chris Wilson, 4-24, Charles Davis 4-20, Emmanuel Smith 2-11. C -- Robert Mercer 15-45, Quinton Green 9-45, Cornell Duncan 6-26, Robert Moore 1-9, Kharan Wallace 1-1.
RECEIVING: D -- Paul Harris 1-12, Chris Wilson 1-0. C-- Robert Moore 3-84, Andre' Womack 3-18, Robert Mercer 3-20, Cornell Duncan 1-(-2).