Gridiron skills help Hubbard past Howland

HUBBARD – It may be the middle of basketball season, but the end of the game between Hubbard and Howland reminded the Eagles’ Brennan Wassil of football.

The 6-foot-4 senior played quarterback during the fall, and with less than 20 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter and the Eagles leading by just two, Wassil called upon those quarterbacking skills on two consecutive plays. Throwing the inbounds pass from the baseline, Wassil found Darnell Tate, who played receiver during football season, streaking down the floor wide open.

Wassil connected on that same play twice, and Tate completed a layup both times to clinch a 50-45 win over the Tigers in an All-American Conference, American Division matchup.

“Yeah, it brought back some memories, especially throwing to Darnell,” Wassil said. “There was nobody deep, no safety high. So, just throw it deep, no one there – man coverage, one-on-one.”

For most of the game, neither team really got the upperhand, as the scoreline rarely strayed past one possession. Howland’s 10-point lead at the 1:59 mark in the first quarter on a Julian Lanier 3-pointer proved to be the largest lead of the game.

Hubbard (4-8, 2-5) trailed by as many as three points halfway through the fourth quarter, but the Eagles went on a 6-0 run to take a lead it didn’t relinquish.

“They didn’t give up,” Hubbard coach Rich Fox said of his team. “Howland made a nice little run in the third, and then we came back. The kids kept on fighting back, and we made some clutch shots down at the end.”

The Eagles used a high-pressure defense to force the Tigers into 21 turnovers, really cranking up the pressure on the Howland ballhandlers starting in the second quarter in the half-court set. Fox gave the credit for the defensive switch to one of his assistants.

“I give the credit for the defense to coach (Justin) Townsend, my varsity assistant. He’s been with me for nine years, and he’s the defensive guy. He wants to put the ball pressure on. He’s a great assistant coach and he does a nice job for us.”

In terms of offense, the Eagles spread out the scoring, with Wassil’s 13 points off the bench leading the way. Wassil missed the previous day’s practice due to an illness and sat the first quarter before stepping onto the floor.

“I like coming off the bench because it kind of gets me into the game a little bit,” Wassil said. “Starting, I didn’t do as well. So, I think coming off the bench would be a good thing for me.”

Starting three sophomores, the Tigers (3-11, 2-8) fell short, but not because of the performance of the lone senior starter Evan Steele. The 5-10 guard recorded a game-high 18 points, 13 of which came in the second half with the game on the line. Howland coach Bill Bogan said Steele displayed the senior leadership his team needs.

“I think (Steele) showed a little bit of that refuse-to-lose mentality,” Bogan said. “Unfortunately, he didn’t get a very good coaching job out of me, which gave them a couple of points early. I apologized to him for that, and I appreciate his leadership and the effort he gave and trust that I’ll do a better job for him down the road.”

As for the Eagles, they have a tall task with a home game against Poland looming on Friday, and Wassil said the win can help build some momentum for that one.

“We definitely needed it,” Wassil said. “It means a lot to us. We just got to get on a streak now.”