Well, it's taken me 10 weeks to come to this realization, but it's finally time to admit it: I don't know what the heck I'm doing trying to rank all of these crazy teams. Three weeks ago it was Reservoir beating Glenelg, then it was Long Reach beating Hammond, and most recently it was Howard beating Reservoir, all results that flew in the face of my so called, 'Power Rankings.'
My failure to properly predict the outcomes of games hasn't been for a lack of effort. I've gone out and watched the teams play, talked to players and coaches, tracked scores and stats and crunched numbers.
I guess what I'm trying to say is that the county has been especially competitive this year, moreso than I can recall in any of my previous five years of covering Howard County football. And that unpredictability is what makes sports fun.
Outside of Atholton, which is having its best year in school history, and the below-.500 teams that hope to be building for the future, the six other teams have been getting after it. It's been a lot of fun to watch.
So whether your team shows up second in these rankings or seventh, there doesn't appear to be a whole lot of separation.
Now, on to more serious business: the playoff race. Here's the gist of it, as I went over in my excellent, riveting story in the Howard County Times:
Hammond (6-3), which won a playoff game for the first time last year, will visit Howard (6-3) in a game with major 3A East playoff implications. Atholton and River Hill have clinched the top two spots in that region and could be headed for a regional championship showdown at Atholton in several weeks if each team continues to win. But behind them, Stephen Decatur, Hammond and Howard are deadlocked at 6-3 and battling for the last two playoff spots.
Howard defeated Reservoir (5-4) last week, 13-7, in overtime, virtually ending the Gators' hopes for their first trip to the playoffs.
Last year, Hammond clinched a share of its first county title with a 17-12 win at Howard in the last week of the regular season. This year, Howard hopes to get some redemption.
If Stephen Decatur loses at Snow Hill (6-3) on Friday, both Hammond and Howard could get in, but that's not a possibility that either team wants to think about.
In the 2A South, meanwhile, the loss to River Hill means Glenelg dropped behind Patuxent into the second spot. But Long Reach's 28-22 win over defending 3A state champ Wilde Lake, may not have been enough to get the Lightning (6-3) close enough to the fourth and final playoff spot in that region. Entering the final week of the season, Long Reach sat in the sixth spot, .11 behind McDonough in fifth, .23 behind Douglass in fourth and .66 behind Gwynn Park in third. The only problem for Long Reach is that even with one of those teams losing, the Lightning won't earn many bonus points by beating one-win Oakland Mills on Friday.
By the way, I'd be lying if I said I think I have the rankings right this time. In fact, I fully expect something to happen this week that I didn't expect.
(Last week's ranking in parentheses)
1. (1.) Atholton (8-1, 328 points-55 points allowed)
It's victory lap time for the Raiders, though they won't be taking that attitude. First they've got to take care of business against Centennial, which will be looking to shock the region, then they'll be gearing up to make their best playoff run yet!
Wins: Howard (28-7), River Hill (14-0), Reservoir (24-14), Marriotts Ridge (54-6), Oakland Mills (56-7), Hammond (40-21), Wilde Lake (35-0), Mt. Hebron (38-0); Losses: Glenelg (FF).
Last week: Beat Mt. Hebron, 38-0. This week: at Centennial, Friday at 7 p.m.
2. (2.) River Hill (7-2, 279-80)
The 'old' River Hill is back. That is, the River Hill that is favored to win in just about every game it plays. Since being outscored, 26-9, in back-to-back losses in September, the Hawks have completely turned things around. They've won five games in a row and have securely locked up the No. 2 seed in the 3A East region.
W: Reservoir (28-7), Long Reach (35-14), Wilde Lake (38-0), Howard (42-7), Oakland Mills (59-6), Centennial (47-0), Glenelg (21-20 OT); L: Atholton (14-0), Hammond (12-9).
Last week: Beat Glenelg, 21-20 OT. This week: at Mt. Hebron, Friday at 7 p.m.
3. (4.) Glenelg (7-2, 211-148)
Good old Glenelg. They've scored 23 points per game, allowed more than two touchdowns per game, and outscored opponents by one touchdown per game, placing them squarely in the middle of the league in terms of point differential. But all Glenelg has done on the field is win, and that stat shows up in just one spot: W-L. Both of their losses have come in OT, and they're going to finish with one of the top two seeds in the 2A South region.
W: Atholton (FF), Centennial (34-0), Wilde Lake (28-8), Oakland Mills (41-14), Hammond (17-14), Long Reach (23-20), Howard (35-14). L: Reservoir (19-13 OT), River Hill (21-20 OT).
Last week: Lost to River Hill, 21-20 OT. This week: home against Marriotts Ridge, Friday at 7 p.m.
4. (5.) Long Reach (6-3, 287-211)
I may have underestimated Long Reach at times this season. I always recognized their excellent offense, but I didn't think it would be enough to lead them to a 7-3 season. They're still giving up a less-than-stellar 23 points per game, but different teams win in different ways, and the Lightning have won a lot of games playing their way this season. A four-game win streak to end the year may not be enough to get them into the playoffs, but 2011 should still be a banner year for Long Reach. They're four points away from being 8-1 right now.
W: Marriotts Ridge (55-14), Reservoir (32-20), Centennial (42-21), Mt. Hebron (26-6), Hammond (33-32 OT), Wilde Lake (28-22); L: River Hill (35-14), Howard (38-37), Glenelg (23-20).
Last week: Beat Wilde Lake, 28-22. This week: at Oakland Mills, Friday at 7 p.m.
5. (6.) Hammond (6-3, 244-131)
Just when things were starting to look catastrophic for the Golden Bears (three losses in four games), they reminded everyone how dangerous they can be with a dominant 44-0 win in the snow last week against Oakland Mills. They boast the league's fourth ranked offense and defense, and have outscored opponents by more than 12 points a game. They're capable of beating anyone in the league, but they can't afford a let-up this week at Howard if they want to make the playoffs.
W: Wilde Lake (16-12), Mt. Hebron (36-13), Centennial (34-7), River Hill (12-9), Marriotts Ridge (35-0), Oakland Mills (44-0); L: Glenelg (17-14), Atholton (40-21), Long Reach (33-32 OT)
Last week: Beat Oakland Mills, 44-0. This week: at Howard, Friday at 7 p.m..
6. (7.) Howard (6-3, 214-178)
Never count the Lions out. Year in and year out, Howard always seems to meet November with a winning record and a chance to make the postseason. After losing two of three in mid October, Howard bounced back with a win over surging Reservoir last week, and now they've got a chance to get into the playoffs with a win against Hammond Friday night.
W: Centennial (41-0), Mt. Hebron (35-7), Long Reach (38-37), Oakland Mills (27-15), Marriotts Ridge (33-7), Reservoir (13-7 OT); L: Atholton (28-7), River Hill (42-7), Glenelg (35-13).
Last week: Beat Howard, 13-7 OT. This week: home against Hammond, Friday at 7 p.m.
7. (3.) Reservoir (5-4, 235-116)
Ahh the Gators, they've baffled me all season long. Their scoring differential (+119, third best in the league), and win over Glenelg on Oct. 14 say they should be much higher. But their record (5-4) and losses to Atholton, River Hill, Long Reach and Howard place them here. Atholton certainly thanks them for that win over Glenelg though...They were really on the verge of greatness this season, so they just need to take the next step next year.
W: Marriotts Ridge (49-6), Mt. Hebron (42-0), Centennial (34-0), Glenelg (19-13 OT), Oakland Mills (43-0); L: River Hill (28-7), Long Reach (32-20), Atholton (24-14), Howard (13-7 OT).
Last week: Lost to Howard, 13-7 OT. This week: at Wilde Lake, Friday at 7 p.m.
8. (8.) Wilde Lake (4-5, 194-164)
This season has been a real letdown for the Wildecats, but I'll say it again: the banner on the wall of the gymnasium still says 2011 state champions (or something to that effect, I haven't been in their gym for a few weeks). Regardless, some of the sting could be eased with a home win to end the fall.
W: Oakland Mills (40-7), Marriotts Ridge (40-12), Mt. Hebron (42-0), Centennial (30-0); L: Hammond (16-12), Glenelg (28-8), River Hill (38-0), Atholton (35-0), Long Reach (28-22).
Last week: Lost to Long Reach, 28-22. This week: home against Reservoir, Friday at 7 p.m.
9. (9.) Mt. Hebron (3-6, 91-247)
I've said it many times this season: Mt. Hebron is better than the basement teams in Howard County, but simply not ready to tangle with the competitive group above them. There's no shame in that, and they've got a foundation to build on for future years.
W: Oakland Mills (26-0), Centennial (21-14), Marriotts Ridge (18-14); L: Hammond (36-13), Howard (35-7), Reservoir (42-0), Wilde Lake (42-0), Long Reach (26-6), Atholton (38-0).
Last week: Lost to Atholton, 38-0. This week: home against River Hill, Friday at 7 p.m.
10. (NA) Centennial (1-8, 68-283)
Whoa! A little shake-up at the bottom for a change. Welcome to the top ten, Eagles. Your prize is Atholton in week ten. Don't worry, a loss this week won't drop you back into the bubble-basement. Why the move? Centennial beat Marriotts Ridge, 26-0. Oakland Mills beat the Mustangs, 27-20. Centennial has been outscored on the season by 215 points, Oakland Mills by 280 (though Atholton might help close that gap this week). Unfortunately, Centennial and Oakland Mills don't play each other this season, so they won't get to settle this on the field.
W: Marriotts Ridge (26-0); L: Howard (41-0), Glenelg (34-0), Hammond (34-7), Mt. Hebron (21-14), Long Reach (42-21), Reservoir (34-0), Wilde Lake (30-0), River Hill (47-0).
Last week: Beat Marriotts Ridge, 26-0. This week: home against Atholton, Friday at 7 p.m.
On the bubble: Marriotts Ridge (0-9, 79-337), Oakland Mills (1-8, 76-356).
Offense1. Atholton, 328 points scored
2. Long Reach, 287
3. River Hill, 279
4. Hammond, 244
5. Reservoir, 235
6. Howard, 214
7. Glenelg, 211
8. Wilde Lake, 194
9. Mt. Hebron, 91
10. Marriotts Ridge, 79
11. Oakland Mills, 76
12. Centennial, 68
Defense1. Atholton, 55 points allowed
2. River Hill, 80
3. Reservoir, 116
4. Hammond, 131
5. Glenelg, 148
6. Wilde Lake, 164
7. Howard, 178
8. Long Reach, 211
9. Mt. Hebron, 247
10. Centennial, 283
11. Marriotts Ridge, 337
12. Oakland Mills, 356
Differential1. Atholton, +273 (30.3 per game)
2. River Hill, +199 (22.1)
3. Reservoir, +119 (13.2)
4. Hammond, +113 (12.6)
5. Long Reach, +76 (8.4)
6. Glenelg, +63 (7.0)
7. Howard, +36 (4.0)
8. Wilde Lake, +30 (3.3)
9. Mt. Hebron, -156 (-17.3)
10. Centennial, -215 (-23.9)
11. Marriotts Ridge, -258 (-28.7)
12. Oakland Mills, -280 (-31.1)