Ethan Burnett finished his block and looked to the other side of the field.
He saw Eje Okojie sprinting down the far sidelines, with one player to beat.
Okojie beat his defender to the end zone. It was River Hill’s first and only touchdown Friday night as the Hawks defeated No. 15 Franklin, 7-0, in a Class 3A state football quarterfinal contest in Howard County.
“I got great blocks on the edge,” Okojie said. “Just took it and did what I have to do.”
Okojie made the big play in the game for the Hawks (10-1 overall). He fumbled on the first drive, but his bounce back play a few drives later pumped up his confidence.
“I was kind of down on myself,” Okojie said. “Coach had faith in me to put me back in the game.”
Okojie, along with senior backfield mates Burnett, Nico Lancashire and junior quarterback Omar Hassan compiled 232 yards on the ground Friday.
With three minutes left in regulation, River Hill got the ball back. Franklin had all three timeouts.
The Hawks got three first downs on the drive, behind 29 yards from Burnett and nine from Hassan to close out the victory and send the Clarksville school to its first state semifinal since 2013. River Hill will host Montgomery County powerhouse Damascus Friday evening.
“Give credit to our offensive line,” River Hill coach Brian Van Deusen said. “You can see their defensive line was wearing down a little bit. So we just had to pound them.”
The Hawks’ defense posted its second straight postseason shutout and fifth overall this season.
Franklin had some success, its best coming early in the opening quarter when it reached River Hill’s 10-yard line. A failed reverse and a sack by Burnett pushed the Indians back to the 26 for fourth down.
Despite a 22-yard pass from Billy Hartman to Tristan Richardson, Franklin (8-4) turned the ball over on downs.
“We just hurt ourselves every time we got something going,” Franklin coach Anthony Burgos said. “A bad snap or something happened. We just put ourselves in bad situations and put ourselves behind the chains early.”
“When we get in the red zone, we all know what our job is,” Burnett said. “What we have to do, what’s on the line.”
What’s at a stake next is a spot in the state final Dec. 1 at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis. The Hawks, who last won a state title in 2012, are the only area school remaining in the 3A playoffs and the highest seeded team (No. 2).
“It feels amazing knowing that even if we don’t play our best game, we can come out on top,” Okojie said. “That’s really the biggest thing I got from this game. If we play an even better game next game, we can make it all the way to states.”
CLASS 3A STATE QUARTERFINAL
RIVER HILL 7, NO. 15 FRANKLIN 0
Franklin 0 0 0 0 - 0
River Hill 0 7 0 0 - 7
River Hill - Eje Okojie 67 run (Vishaal Gudapati kick)