Urbana High School football coach Ryan Hines wanted to raise the energy level of his players, so he showed them the second fight of “Rocky III.” In the film, Rocky and Clubber Lang, played Mr. T., have a long bout that features both delivering hard blow after hard blow.
And that was just Thursday.
The Urbana players, already having beaten top-seeded Damascus in the first round of the playoffs, gathered around Hines, whose face reddened as he yelled. “We’ve had a great run,” Hines shouted before really raising his voice. “Guess what? It ain’t over.” Everyone in the circle went into delirium.
And that was just pregame.
When No. 4 seed Urbana finally won the 3A West title game — an exhausting 26-17 affair at No. 2 Seneca Valley High School on Friday, anchored by Raekwon Gray’s 199 rushing yards and four touchdowns — the real fun began.
Players leaped on a fence between the field and bleachers to hug fans. An assistant coach danced Gangnam Style. And Hines jumped to shoulder bump senior Darren Ambush.
“I got up, didn’t I? A little bit” Hines said. “You could have gotten a credit card under my feet.”
Urbana is on its feet — and off running. Urbana, which ended Friday’s game with 20 unanswered points, has won six straight and will play at defending state champion River Hill next week in a state semifinal.
The “Rocky III” screening was partially motivated by a fan who appeared in Urbana’s film of the Damascus game. The fan, standing on the track behind the field, pantomimed a boxer when Urbana’s Brendan Wharton made a hard fourth-down tackle. (Sure enough, the same fan appeared in Friday’s post-game celebration, punched the air a few times and had everyone hollering for more.)
The other motivation? Seneca Valley’s physicality.
Each week, Hines gives his players five keys to victory, and one is always to be more physical than the opponent.
“Seneca Valley is a physical, tough team. I knew I can’t just put this on my keys to victory and just say, ‘Be more physical than them,’ because they’re going to hit us,” Hines said. “So we said, ‘It’s like a fight. And no better fight than Rocky III.’
“It’s like, ‘This is what’s going to happen. You’re going to come out, and you’re going to hit them, and they’re going to hit you, and you’re going to hit them, and they’re going to hit you. You may get knocked down’ — which is what happened at halftime — and we got back up, and you know how it turns out in the end.”
Urbana scored first, but trailed 17-6 at halftime. Then, Gray scored two touchdowns in fewer than two minutes late in the third quarter.
On Seneca Valley’s lone play between the scores, Urbana cornerback Brandon Plante — whose father is Seneca Valley’s offensive coordinator — intercepted a pass. Before the snap, Plante nearly ran to the opposite side of the field to cover Kevin Joppy. But Plante stayed home, read an eye signal by Seneca Valley’s quarterback and jumped the route.
Gray added another touchdown in the fourth quarter to seal the win. More than Gray’s 199 yards or four scores, Plante, who’s also a backup running back, was impressed by Gray’s 35 rushes against Seneca Valley’s Clubber Lang defense.
“I had three carries. I don’t know how he did it,” Plante said. “He was just getting smacked around in there.”
Urbana advances to its second state semifinal in the past three years, but Seneca Valley’s season ends without adding to the program’s record 12 state titles.
“The end-of-season loss doesn’t define who you are and what kind of man you are and if you’re a champion or not,” said Seneca Valley coach Fred Kim, whose team won its first playoff game in four years with a victory against North Hagerstown last week. “It’s not about the hardware.
“We always want to say, unless we win a state championship, it’s been a failure. But the reality of it is, based on what we accomplished this year, it’s a great success. We had a great season.”
The nearby programs — Urbana just into Frederick County and Seneca Valley just into Montgomery County — have met four times in the past eight years, each contest in the playoffs, and this is Urbana’s first win in the span.
It’s especially sweet for Gray, who played youth football in Germantown with several players now at Seneca Valley and even had two cousins on the opposite sideline.
“When it was done, I just gave them a big hug and told them I love them,” Gray said, “and see them at Thanksgiving.”
Urbana 26, Seneca Valley 17
Urbana (8-3) 6 0 12 8 — 26
Seneca Valley (10-2) 0 17 0 0 — 17
U — Raekwon Gray 4 run (run failed)
SV — Nick Fahs 3 run (Ephraim Joaqin kick)
SV — Ephraim Joaqin 26 field goal
SV — Travis Arthur 51 pass from Calvin Reighard (Ephraim Joaqin kick)
U — Raekwon Gray 8 run (pass failed)
U — Raekwon Gray 31 run (pass failed)
U — Raekwon Gray 5 run (Nathan Miller from Donovan Pannell)
Urbana — Raekwon Gray 35-199; Brandon Plante 3-15; Darren Ambush 1-10; Michael Dunn 4-7; Donovan Pannell 4-(-16).
Seneca Valley — Kevin Joppy 9-11; Nick Fahs 2-5; Calvin Reighard 6-4; Kellen Staton 2-2; James Jones-Williams 1-(-1).
Urbana — Donovan Pannell 3-9-55-1.
Seneca Valley — Calvin Reighard 19-30-202-1.
Urbana — Darren Ambush 2-31; Brendan Wharton 1-24.
Seneca Valley — Nick Fahs 10-79; Travis Arthur 3-72; Kairi Weaver 3-17; James Jones-Williams 1-16; Kellen Staton 1-15; Kevin Joppy 1-3.