Page finds the answer to Green Hill’s magic

Patriots pull away to reach first semifinal since 1998

MT. JULIET – Anyone familiar with the Green Hill football program knows that they are capable of second-half magic. So, when the Hawks began their second-half comeback, the Page Patriots conjured up some of their own.

The visiting Patriots used a kickoff return and a stifling run defense to squelch a Hawk comeback in their 31-14 victory in the Class 5A quarterfinal Friday.

The game got off to a promising start for Green Hill, but the Page defense, led by Colin Hurd and Isaac Hehmeyer, forced a turnover on downs inside the Page 30-yard line. It did not get any easier for the Hawks, as the Patriots committed to neutralizing Green Hill running backs Brax Lamberth and Niko Duffie, forcing the Hawks to the air.

“We wanted to force them to throw the ball,” Page Head coach Charles Rathbone said. “And we felt that if we could force them to do that (run), then that meant we were probably up because they want to run the ball. We tried to make them one-dimensional, and the defense did a great job.”

The Patriot defense held the Green Hill rushing attack to 111 yards for the game on 30 carries.

“They came out and loaded the box and we tried to beat them throwing it a little bit,” Green Hill head coach Josh Crouch said. “They took away what we do best. They had nine guys in the box. Two safeties at about seven yards. We just couldn’t get anything going in the run game. You know number 40 (Eric Hazard) and number 4 (Hurd) are heck of football players. They closed down both outsides.”

Page opened the scoring on their second possession with seconds left in the first quarter. Given great field position courtesy of their defense, the Patriots capped the drive with a one-yard run by Ethan Cunningham to put the Patriots up 7-0.

“Last week I was a little bit rough,” Cunningham said. “I just knew in this game I had to be more physical and become a more sharp runner.”

The Green Hill defense continued to come up with big plays to keep the game in reach. A blocked field goal and a fumble recovery at the Hawk one-yard line kept the game within reach, as the offense continued to struggle. Altogether, they forced three Patriot turnovers.

“We’ve got to get back to catching the ball and simple things on offense,” Page head coach Charles Rathbone said. “We finish off a couple of those drives and this isn’t even a game. That’s no disrespect to Green Hill, but we have to finish things.”

The defense for the Patriots continued its dominating play as the rush not only contained the run game but did not allow Green Hill quarterback any time in the pocket. The pressure allowed Page to add to their lead midway through the second quarter when Hawk quarterback Cade Mahoney, desperately scrambling to evade the rush, was called for intentional grounding in the end zone. The safety provided a cushion that became increasingly important once the Green Hill rally began.

“Coach said we got to be focused and get back up,” Cunningham said regarding the halftime message. “We had to catch the ball, just refocus. We knew that this team had a good chance to come back.”

Down 9-0 returning from the break, the Hawks created some comeback magic as the opening kickoff was fumbled inside the Patriot 25-yard line, giving the Hawks their best starting field position. A few plays later, Lamberth scored from three yards, cutting the lead to 9-7 as the Green Hill home crowd roared back to life.

The Patriots doused the celebration on the ensuing kickoff, as Cade Walker returned the kick 75 yards and a score as Page reclaimed a nine-point lead.

The Hawks were not done, however. They followed with their best drive of the night, a 65-yard drive with Mahoney powering in from 19 yards out, once again cutting the lead to two midway through the third quarter. Mahoney finished 16-of-28 with 148 yards but with two crucial interceptions.

Page quarterback Jake McNamara, who was 15-of-26 for 240 yards on the night, answered back on the next drive. Rolling to his right, McNamara found Michael Mayer alone at midfield and the resulting 70-yard gain down to the Hawk 12-yard line. Cunningham finished the drive on the next play with a dash around the left side of the defense for a 23-14 lead.

The Patriots put the game away midway through the final stanza as Boyce Smith turned a short McNamara pass into a 43-yard sprint to the endzone. McNamara’s two-point pass to Mayer was the final tally of the night.

It was a rough ending for a Green Hill program in its second year. “For what this senior class has done and what we did this year, man, I told them all week ‘Nothing’s guaranteed,’ and to relish every moment. For what we accomplished this year and what we’ve got going on in the future we’re excited. These seniors will go down in the history of Green Hill high school and there’s no promise we’ll ever get back to the third round of the playoffs. This is a special year.”

The win propelled Page into a “Patriot-on-Patriot” semifinal hosting Henry County (23-0 winners at Springfield). It will be the third trip to the semifinal round in Page history and the first in 23 years.

Rathbone had nothing but praise for Green Hill and the second-year program. “They did a great job, they’re well-coached, great young men, played hard, played fair, you didn’t see any cheap shots on either side,” Rathbone said. “So, I was proud of both programs. And just how hard they played.

“I’m excited about (playing Henry County). Henry County is always a powerhouse, it’ll be a challenge. We’ll do our best to make our Rudderville community proud.”

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