Ravens win to go out in style

The Hampstead Ravens have had a good run in the Mid-Maryland Youth Football League. Coming into this past season, they’d won two consecutive Centennial League Super Bowls. In 2011, they won the ages 9-11 title and in 2012, the 10-12 crown.

This fall, most of the players were eighth graders who were playing their last youth football season. They wanted to go out in winning style.

In November, the Hampstead Ravens did exactly that, finishing their youth football careers with a three-peat. After finishing first in the regular season with an 8-0 record and winning their opening playoff game, they completed an unbeaten season on Nov. 16 by winning the MMYFL’s ages 11-13 Super Bowl game, 20-8 over Columbia.

This coming fall, they move on to continue their football careers at North Carroll, Manchester Valley and a few other high schools. And judging from what these youngsters have accomplished over the past few years, there will be some very happy high school football coaches come August and September.

This Ravens team lost exactly one game from 2011 through the final gun of November’s Super Bowl.

Head coach Tony Holland credits the players’ successes to their extraordinary talents but also to the fact that they have been a cohesive force. Most of the boys have been together since they were seven, and they had thoroughly learned the team system on both offense and defense. This season, there were only three or four new players to instruct; the rest were returners who already knew the drill.

They became closely-knit socially as well as football-wise. The coaches did their best to encourage that togetherness. Prior to this season, the team’s parents and coaches took the boys to Virginia for a combination summer fun and football camp.

There were a lot of social activities as well as two-a-day practices.

“This was something special for their last summer together. We wanted them to know each other better and to bond,” Holland explained.

The effort apparently worked. The boys suddenly began wearing shirts with the letters “B4L” on them. When their coach inquired, they learned that this meant, “Brothers for Life”.

Holland and his assistant coaches Jason Litvak, Scott Melville, Ted Traurig, John Smith and Jeff Hoeflich stressed the usual things: blocking, tackling and the team’s traditional single wing offense.

That alignment, which features a full backfield, offers a large variety of running options that befuddled most of the defenses they faced. Holland noted that in 2012, his team scored a Mid-Maryland League record 74 touchdowns. It didn’t do quite as well this season, but it did well enough.

The Ravens’ ball-control single-wing attack scored 268 points in its eight games, best among the 14 teams in their 11-13 bracket. They won almost all of their regular season games by comfortable scores.

Holland credits Melville for molding the defensive unit that held opponents to 32 points, best in the 11-13’s Blue section and second only to Columbia overall in the 11-13 age bracket. That Howard County team allowed only 29.

He reserved most of the kudos for the kids themselves. Their efforts were key to their successes.

“They worked hard. They studied our game plan and studied the other teams’ offenses and defenses. They’re smart, and most of them do very well in school,” Holland said.

Even though the other teams were trying to break the Ravens’ unbeaten string, his players never let stress get to them as they headed toward an undefeated season.

“There was no pressure. They treated each game like just another game.There was no hype. They knew that if you block better and tackle better, you win-bottom line,” he said.

The opening playoff game in early November was against Pikesville, which the Ravens had shut out, 27-0 in their regular season meeting. They won by shutout again in the playoffs, 16-0, but Pikesville was tougher this second time.

Hampstead led only 8-0 until late in the fourth quarter when it scored its clinching touchdown. The winners relied on their ball control offense, running mostly off tackle plays and controlling the line.

The mid-November championship at Howard County’s Blandair Park matched Hampstead against another Ravens team, this one from Columbia. This game would also be a tough one. Hampstead had never faced Columbia and Holland was concerned coming in.

“They were a big, athletic team and very well coached. It was definitely the best team we faced all year,” he said.

However, his gang went right after its Ravens counterparts. It took the opening kick-off and marched right down the field in eight plays to score. Then it pulled an on-sides kick, ran another eight plays, and scored another touchdown and open a 14-0 lead.

Midway through the second quarter, Columbia struck back. It completed a pass and the receiver lateraled back to a trailer who carried to the Hampstead three yard line. That “hook and ladder” play covered some 30 yards.Three plays later, Columbia scored to narrow the Hampstead lead to 14-8.

However the Ravens defense stifled the Howard County club after that.

“They had negative total yardage the rest of the game. Our defense was why we were successful all year. Our offense complemented our defense,” Holland said.

His team scored a clinching touchdown in the fourth period to finish off Columbia.

Holland feels this was the most satisfying championship he’s had.

“This was the best team we’ve ever had because the competition was tougher. There were always a lot of scouts watching our games,” he said.

Holland says he says he is unsure whether he’ll coach next year. But one thing is certain. When area football coaches start working with the kids he’s coached the past few years it will probably be clear that he’s done a pretty good coaching job so far.

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