For the past three years, Owings Mills coach Steve Lurz has had to answer questions about the frustration of missing the playoffs by a game or two.
After Owings Mills' 48-0 victory over Joppatowne on Oct. 26, Lurz was happy to talk about the Eagles' first playoff appearance in 15 years.
"It's definitely a relief," said Lurz, whose team ended a 52-game losing streak in 2009. "It's something we have been really working for. I have 25 seniors on this team so, last year, I think they were disappointed in how things went. They realized we had to put it together and get it done this year."
Owings Mills (9-1) will play at Dundalk (8-2) on Nov. 9 at 7 p.m in a Class 2A North Region semifinal at Lansdowne High.
"The school has never won a playoff game," Lurz said. "We are going to be very excited. We are just going to ride it as long as we can."
Lurz hopes his spread-option offense will continue to score in bunches, to the tune of a 30 points-per-game average.
Speedy senior quarterback Shane Gaines, a three-year starter, makes the offense go. He has thrown 15 touchdown passes and run for four more scores.
"He is a catalyst," Lurz said. "We can throw or run the ball with him. He is like another running back there."
There are other weapons: Running backs Jawon Johnson (10 TDs), Malik Williams (6) and Demetrius Johnson and wide receivers Corey Hill and Kevin Yrizarry.
But an improved defense, anchored by safety Hill (5 interceptions), and linebackers Kenjuan Jones (72 tackles, 15 for loss) and Eric Smith (6 sacks), just might be the difference in why the Eagles qualified for the playoffs.
The unit has four shutouts.
"The linebacking corps has played a lot better and it has helped the defense stop teams," Lurz said.
The Titans, who have suffered through years of postseason frustration, beat Northwestern in a Class 1A North Region semifinal last year, but had to forfeit that win and nine others because of an ineligible player.
On top of that, New Town lost to Brunswick, 52-0, in 2010, Catoctin, 50-0, in 2009 and Pikesville, 26-22, in 2008.
This year, New Town (8-2) will play Overlea (8-2) in a Class 1A North Region semifinal on Nov. 9 at 7 p.m. at Woodlawn High.
"We are definitely looking forward to have our chance to win it all," said New Town's Joe Holland, a fifth-year coach. "This is a more complete team than last year. We have more talent across the board. Last year, I thought it was the first time we had more than a couple of individual players."
The Titans are dangerous running and throwing the ball. Quarterback Shawn Maggison (12 TD passes) lets senior running backs Donte Gross, Rayshawn Clark, Derrick Kittrell and Ryan Marine do most of the work, though.
"I think every week, two or three of the backs get about 100 yards and someone else gets 70 or 80 yards," Holland said. "We have been putting up a lot of points (376). I think Hereford is the only team to score more."
Linebackers Chris Fatogoma, Damarco Spears and Marine spearhead the defense that has allowed only 76 points.
"I think they will be Division-I prospects next year," Holland said.
The Indians might have a better chance at postseason success than either New Town or Owings Mills.
They are making their seventh straight playoff appearance under 10th-year coach Anthony Burgos and have advanced as far as a state semifinal (2006) and state final (2010).
Franklin (9-1) will host Hereford (7-3) in a Class 3A North Region semifinal on Nov. 9 at 7 p.m.
"I believe this is our most talented team since I have been here," Burgos said. "I think this team has all the elements to win a state title. We have demonstrated we are one of the elite teams out there."
The Indians are also one of the fastest ones out there — especially on offense.
The unit boasts quarterback Jackson Thornton, brothers Marquis, a wide receiver, and Reggie Ellis, a wide receiver/running back, fullback Shaquile Melvin and freshman phenom wide receiver Steven Smothers.
"It's the fastest team we have had," Burgos said. "We have a good balance between running and passing."
Linebacker Malik Jackson, end Kiandre Burrell, cornerback Cederic Arandi and tackle Melvin anchor the defense.
"Our defense is playing very well," Burgos said. "It was one of our downfalls last year."
Just three weeks after being on the short end of a 48-12 rout in its annual battle with Gilman, a rapidly maturing McDonogh squad will get another crack at the Greyhounds when the archrivals meet Nov. 10 at Stevenson University's Owings Mills campus at 5 p.m. in a Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference semifinal.
The suddenly confident and fifth-seeded Eagles earned the right for a rematch by trouncing fourth-seeded Loyola, 28-7, in the first round of the playoffs Nov. 3.
In garnering just its third win of the season, McDonogh (3-7, 2-4 conference) proved that its young talent is just beginning to blossom.
The change in team dynamics, though, began when Travis Wood was inserted into the lineup at quarterback and the senior helped engineer a 24-0 victory over Mount St. Joseph.
While he also was in charge during the loss to Gilman, Wood bounced back against Loyola (5-5, 2-3) in a big way.
"We decided a couple of weeks ago to go with the senior," McDonogh coach Dom Damico said. "We had a talented freshman (Jansen Durham) starting, and we feel he's going to be a very good player. We just felt a senior might be able to handle the pressure a little bit better. And he's been handling the offense perfectly. I'm really proud of Travis."