Homecoming king Ashby's five TDs lead James Wood to rout of North Hagerstown

WINCHESTER — About the only thing missing at Kelican Stadium on Friday night were chants of "Long live the king!"
Senior wide receiver Jaden Ashby scored the first three touchdowns of the game in the first half, was crowned Homecoming king at halftime, then tallied two more TDs in the second half to tie a school record for a game as the James Wood football team routed North Hagerstown (Md.) 52-0 on Friday night.
Prior to the game, fall sports athletes marched around the track and members of the Homecoming court were driven around the track in trucks as part of James Wood's first Homecoming celebration in two years. The festive atmosphere had the Colonels football team ready to roll once the game started.
"It feels great," said Ashby after James Wood's jubilant postgame team talk broke up. "We had great support in the crowd. It feels great to be back and have a normal Homecoming game again." 
Ashby once again showed he's no normal player. He scored touchdowns in all three phases of the game for James Wood (4-1), which scored 26 points in each half in beating the Hubs (2-3).
Ashby had five catches for 111 yards and three touchdowns, the first of which was a 38-yarder that came just 65 seconds into the game. He also had an 67-yard punt return for a TD in the first half and an 87-yard interception return for a TD in the second half. Ashby had two interceptions total.
Ashby tied a TD record set three times previously, the last of which was recorded by Tyler Bishop against Warren County in 2015.
"This is probably my best game scoring-wise, and making plays," Ashby said.
Junior quarterback Jared Neal made plenty of plays as well, particularly on roll outs. With five touchdown passes, he also tied a school record that was first set by Carson Hoberg against Warren County in 2019. Neal (13 of 24 for 194 yards), connected with Ashby for TDs of 38, 6 and 51 yards, Ryan King for 4 yards and Elijah Miller for 11 yards. On the last one, Neal rolled left and threw back across the middle to an open Miller. 
"[Neal] did a really good job of reading things," James Wood coach Ryan Morgan said. "He's pretty good on a move and a good decision-maker." 
King played like a King as well, catching five passes for 31 yards and recording two interceptions.  
Ashby and King were part of a superlative performance by James Wood's defense, which recorded its first shutout since a 2016 win over Skyline.
The Colonels had six takeaways. Five of those turnovers eventually produced TDs totaling 33 points. The Colonels — who had a 347-136 yard edge — held North Hagerstown to 18 yards on 31 carries. The Hubs lost huge chunks of yardage as a result of three fumbles (two lost) and two Colonels sacks.  
James Wood set the tone right away. King returned the opening kickoff 30 yards to the Colonel 45. Three plays later, Neal rolled right and found Ashby wide open 10 yards downfield, and Ashby did the rest. He cut to the left and ran in untouched for a 38-yard TD that made it 6-0.
"Before the game, the team was locked in. We were all hyped," King said. "The crowd, too. They boosted us and added energy. We kept our foot on the gas, and we didn't take it off."
Morgan has talked about wanting to see his team get off to stronger starts on multiple occasions this year, and that opening drive set the tone.
"We wanted to come out faster," Morgan said. "We've had slow starts and had to come from behind against some teams."
James Wood didn't score on its second possession, but defense and special teams helped the Colonels expand their lead.
Ashby fielded a bouncing 28-yard punt at the Colonel 33 toward the left side of the field, burst to the right into space, then cut inside the last person in his way when he crossed midfield for a 67-yard TD that made it 12-0.
That touchdown gave Ashby four TDs on six combined kickoff and punt returns this year (two kickoff TDs, two punt TDs).
"I'm honestly surprised they kick it to me," said Ashby with a laugh. "If it goes to me, I've just got to do what I've got to do and make a play."
The threat of Ashby likely resulted in North Hagerstown's shanked nine-yarder that went out of bounds at the James Wood 38 in the second quarter. The Colonels responded with a 62-yard TD drive that ended with Neal connecting with Ashby on a six-yard slant with 7:57 left in the first half. A 35-yard extra point by Hunter Barnhart after two penalties (he made 4 of 6 attempts) made it 20-0.
James Wood's defense shut down North Hagerstown from there. Morgan called the Hubs a running team prior to the game. James Wood made North Hagerstown's north-south running game practically non-existent. Bray Alexander was held to 33 yards on 13 carries. 
Forced to pass, North Hagerstown had little luck against both impressive pressure from James Wood up front and excellent coverage from the Colonels' secondary. Quarterback Marc Buckley completed 10 of 24 passes for 118 yards. 
King said he was down on himself after fumbling with 2:55 left in the second quarter. He responded with two interceptions in the final 2:17, leaping for a ball in the air and ripping it away from North Hagerstown's Alexander Clark after they hit the ground on the first one.
That was the only turnover James Wood didn't convert into a TD. But with a minute to go in the half, King returned an interception 37 yards to the Wood 47, with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty taking it to the Hub 38. Six plays later, Neal connected with King for a four-yard TD out of a bunch receiver formation on the left side to make it 26-0 with 23 seconds left before the half.
James Wood added TDs following fumble recoveries by freshman defensive lineman Kquince Robinson and sophomore linebacker Zach Smith in the second half.
"Our defensive line and linebackers, I thought we took some steps forward, especially at linebacker this week," Morgan said. "Our defensive line was excited to play. We didn't do too well last week against Kettle Run, so those guys were kind of hungry to prove themselves. Our defensive ends Brendan Cassidy and Caleb Keefer were getting a lot of pressure on the quarterback, and also making some plays in the backfield and making their running back cut probably before he was ready.
"Our defensive coaches came up with a good game plan, and we tackled better than we have in past weeks."
James Wood — which also received 75 yards on 16 carries from Wes Brondos and 63 yards and a TD on eight carries from Karim Cisse — will face a tougher test in next week in West Virginia at 6-0 Jefferson, but they'll savor Friday's win.
"I told the kids in the huddle afterward that this is the type of game dreams are made of when it comes to high school football," Morgan said. "It doesn't get much better than Homecoming, shutout, and some big plays. Most of the kids got to play and get some experience in front of the home fans. 
"There are always going to be things you need to fix, but hopefully the kids can enjoy it tonight and this weekend and get back to work on Monday."
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