Costly turnovers send Germantown Academy past Hill School

FORT WASHINGTON >> Dave Rackovan’s potentially explosive offense hoped to come out with all guns blazing in the Hill School’s season opener Saturday afternoon.

Instead, the Rams shot themselves in the foot repeatedly. Seven turnovers.

SEVEN! Four picks, three fumbles.

The Rams also had a sidelined starting post-grad quarterback — a promising kid from Texas who can make all the throws and is being recruited by the University of South Florida. Clayton Oliver broke his right (throwing) hand in practice recently, making passing-game guru and Hill School head coach Rackovan’s season all the more difficult to launch at Germantown Academy.

A freshman, Syre Gruber, was thrown into the fire in Oliver’s place, and he threw three of the Rams’ four interceptions.

But there was more to his story, just as there would be more to A.J. Bates’ story. The talented runner-receiver-return man was having a tough day with turnovers and drops. But he would roar back.

There was a 16-0 second-quarter hole for Hill School.

But the Rams would roar back.

With all that adversity, plus a questionable officiating call late in the game, the Rams almost overcame all of it. Despite seven turnovers and all the rest, the Rams had a chance until nearly the very end, falling 30-15 to the Patriots in a game far closer than the final score.

Hill School’s defense was outstanding, with several players going both ways.

The Rams sacked Kyle McCloskey three times — Dymir Davis-Carruth, Will McCarter and Jeremy Subjinski leading the takedowns — and their secondary coverage was splendid, forcing McCloskey into long stretches of incompletions. The Ram defense held the fort for the last three quarters after two early turnovers helped set up Patriot scores and a 13-0 GA first-quarter lead.

Overall the Rams showed a lot of resilience and big-play capability. They got their running game going and outrushed the Patriots by nearly a two-to-one ratio. Rackovan shuttled Gruber and Hakim Coles, a big running threat, in at QB to compensate for the big loss of Oliver. But the turnovers couldn’t completely be overcome.

“The name of the game was the turnovers,” Rackovan said. “I’ll tell ya what, our defense played lights-out. They defended bad field position all day and stopped a heck of a thrower.”

Down 16-zip after a GA field goal early in the second quarter — that after a terrific diving deflection of a McCloskey pass in the end zone by Frank McGlinchey — the Rams served official notice that they weren’t ready to warm up the bus. Bates, an electric long-strider, bolted 90 yards for a TD on the ensuing kickoff as the Rams made it 16-7 at the half.

It would become 23-7 after another pick positioned the Patriots deep in Hill School territory. But the fourth quarter began with a bang for the Rams as Trey Humes exploded for an 83-yard run down to the Patriot 12. It was deflating when the Rams couldn’t punch it in from inside the Patriot 10 and had to relinquish possession, but their defense stood up, forcing a seventh GA punt.

And then the poised, tough freshman Gruber appeared to grow into a junior, leading the Rams downfield with some nice completions and finding Bates in the end zone for a beautiful leaping grab over a defender near the right flag. Coles’ two-point run made it anybody’s game, 23-15, with 5:44 left in regulation.

“There was a lot of good stuff to take away from this; even with all the turnovers, we were in the game ‘til the very end,” Humes said. “We’ve got a young quarterback starting and I give him kudos. He didn’t get his head down. He made some mistakes earlier but he comes back and throws a touchdown that we needed. And a shout-out to our offensive line — the holes were there all day long.”

Hill School’s final turnover, though, was ultra-costly. It was also questionable as was the time-keeping. Humes lost the ball but got it back as he fell.

It appeared the play was blown dead and Hill School had possession, but the officials huddled to discuss it and, meanwhile, the clock kept running about another 30 seconds while they talked. They ruled the ball belonged to GA. About 20 seconds were restored on the clock, but the Patriots put the game away.

Taking possession on the Hill School 28, the Patriots eventually iced it on McCloskey’s 19-yard run.

But all was not lost for Hill School.

“I really love this team,” Bates said. “I think we have a lot of potential to do great things. I messed up a lot today, and if we eliminate the turnovers the score would’ve been completely different.”

“If we don’t turn the football over, it’s a different football game,” Rackovan said. “We’re fine. The thing I liked is we played well on defense. With that many turnovers it should’ve been a blowout. We did a real good job against a good quarterback and a good football team.”

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