Wow, is it already week seven? Why, it seems like just yesterday I was procrastinating my work on the football preview and wearing sandals in the great outdoors. Now I'm seeing pictures of Christmas decorations for sale at Walmart on Facebook, and transitioning to long-sleeved shirts.
Little has gone according to the script this season. Mt. Hebron has really had a great turnaround season, and some other promising teams have stumbled. But River Hill, Atholton and Howard have all continued their recent string of success as top four teams.
The middle group of teams has been a mess though. Last week I thought I had it solved when I ranked Wilde Lake fifth and Hammond eighth, with Reservoir and Glenelg in between. But then Hammond went out and beat Wilde Lake, 20-14, on Friday night.
This quartet of teams is just that closely grouped. We could have a No. 3 over No. 2 upset this week, and No. 4 Howard will have a chance to knock off two teams ranked ahead of it over the final month, but No. 5 through 8 are about as close as you can get. Reservoir's 24-0 shut out of Glenelg gives it a clear edge there, Wilde Lake (15 points allowed per game, second best in the league) would seemingly have the best defense of the bunch, and Hammond (24 points per game) has outscored the other three. But they've all played each other (except Glenelg and Wilde Lake, who do not play each other this season) and any one of the four teams could argue that they belong ahead of the other three.
They're all 3-3 with a scoring differential right around even, and I think there's a pretty good chance that all four will finish 5-5.
Anyway, you can read on to see how I sorted them out. (No, I didn't rank them in a four-way tie. That would be lame.)
The top tier teams have also been getting after each other.
I guess you could say that the big game between undefeated Mt. Hebron and River Hill last week didn't quite live up to the hype, but that doesn't mean you should go back to watching poker tournaments on ESPN2. There are still plenty of good football games left on the schedule, starting this Friday night with No. 3 Atholton (5-1) at No. 2 Mt. Hebron (5-1). And I see a couple of good games coming up on Saturday, with Long Reach at Wilde Lake and Reservoir at Howard, both at 1 p.m.
It's also time to start checking out the playoff picture!
Howard County is absolutely dominating the 3A East, as local teams sit in the top SEVEN spots! Pat yourselves on the back guys. Of course, only four of those teams can get in, and right now River Hill (8.67 playoff point average), Atholton (7.50), Mt. Hebron (6.83) and Howard (5.33) are locked into those spots. But with a few big wins down the stretch, Hammond (4.83), Reservoir (4.50) or Wilde Lake (4.00) could sneak in.
In the 2A South, the picture isn't so bright. Our best hope, Glenelg, is sitting in seventh with a 4.17 point average. Undefeated Patuxent (9.00) and McDonough (8.50) occupy the top two spots, and Gwynn Park is currently hanging onto the fourth and final playoff ticket with 7.50. But with games against Mt. Hebron and Atholton ahead on the schedule, the Gladiators could climb quickly if they win out.
(Last week's ranking in parentheses)
1. (1.) River Hill (6-0, 275 points scored-57 points allowed)
Wow. If there was any doubt as to which team belonged at No. 1 coming into last week, it's gone now. The one area of concern in recent weeks was the defense, which allowed 41 points in weeks four and five (I know, I know, some of those points were special teams and many in week four were against the reserves). But then the Hawks came out and dominantly shut out an offense that had been scoring more than 30 points per game. With the weapons they have on offense (Griffin, Arn, Osong, Altman, Ball, etc.) this team is going to be tough to stop.
Last week: beat Mt. Hebron, 37-0. This week: at No. 10 Marriotts Ridge (2-4), Friday at 7 p.m.
Wins: LR (52-16), OM (49-0), C (56-0), Ha (54-28), G (27-13), MH (37-0). Losses: NA.
2. (2.) Mt. Hebron (5-1, 163-95)
Getting shut out 37-0 isn't good, but as coach Phil Zacharias pointed out, it doesn't mean the season is over. But the Vikings do need to regroup quickly with No. 3 Atholton coming to visit Friday night for what should be an excellent game. I revisited the No. 2 and 3 rankings, but Mt. Hebron still has a pretty convincing argument based on common opponent: Reservoir (MH 26-13, A 28-25), Long Reach (MH 32-26 OT, A 12-13) and Wilde Lake (MH 41-6, A 14-12). Besides, why get cute when they're just going to decide it on the field in two days anyway?
Last week: lost to River Hill, 37-0. This week: home against No. 3 Atholton (5-1), Friday at 7 p.m.
W: Re (26-13), LR (32-26 OT), WL (41-6), MR (35-13), OM (29-0). L: RH (37-0).
3. (3.) Atholton (5-1, 162-90)
After their first four games were decided by a combined eight points, the Raiders have now beaten a pair of opponents — Centennial and Oakland Mills - by a combined score of 73-6. That probably served to save the coaching staff a little bit of stress, and built some confidence in the players. As a younger team, you kind of figured that the Raiders would be better in the second half than the first half, which means this could be a pretty dangerous playoff team.
Last week: beat Oakland Mills, 48-6. This week: at No. 2 Mt. Hebron (5-1), Friday at 7 p.m.
W: WL (14-12 OT), Re (28-25), Ho (35-34), C (25-0), OM (48-6). L: LR (13-12).
4. (4.) Howard (4-2, 211-131)
The Lions bounced back nicely from a somewhat surprising loss to Hammond, running wild on reeling Long Reach, 62-29. The 62 points were the most scored by Howard since at least 2004. I'll do some digging in the archives next time I'm in the office (hah!) but it could be even older than that. Howard is now one of only two teams to score at least 200 points, along with River Hill. The remaining schedule is a meat-grinder though: home against Reservoir, home against Wilde Lake, at Mt. Hebron, and at River Hill.
Last week: beat Long Reach, 62-29. This week: home against Reservoir (3-3), Saturday at 1 p.m.
W: G (28-14), MR (38-7), C (21-7), LR (62-29). L: A (35-34), Ha (39-28).
5. (6.) Reservoir (3-3, 121-95)
The Gators get the nod over the next three teams because they've beaten two of them — including a convincing 24-0 shut out of Glenelg — which is more than the other three can say. The knock against Reservoir is that they were shut out by Wilde Lake, 7-0, two weeks ago. But as I've said before, everyone is going to get a mulligan this season. The Gators are also the most balanced offensively-and-defensively of this group. They could really solidify their spot with a win at Howard on Saturday.
Last week: beat Centennial, 38-14. This week: at Howard (4-2), Saturday at 1 p.m.
W: Ha (21-20), G (24-0), C (38-14). L: MH (26-13), A (28-25), WL (7-0).
6. (7.) Glenelg (3-3, 109-100)
You'd like to see Glenelg's highly-capable offense do a little better than the 16 points per game they produced through the first five weeks of the season, but that number could look a lot better after this Saturday's game at Oakland Mills, which has allowed a league-worst 37 points per game. The Gladiators did beat Hammond, 21-8, in week 2, so I feel pretty good about giving them this spot.
Last week: beat Marriotts Ridge, 27-7. This week: at Oakland Mills (0-6), Saturday at 2 p.m.
W: Ha (21-8), LR (34-6), MR (27-7). L: Ho (28-14), Re (24-0), RH (27-13).
8. (5.) Wilde Lake(3-3, 98-90)
7. (8.) Hammond (3-3, 144-138)
The Golden Bears are really picking up some steam lately with two quality wins (Howard, Wilde Lake) in a row after a three-game losing streak in mid-September. They've scored an impressive 87 points in their last three games and have the league's fifth-ranked offense with Dionte Jones racking up the yards. They also still have Centennial and Oakland Mills left on the schedule.
Last week: beat Wilde Lake, 20-14. This week: home against Centennial (1-5), Saturday at noon.
W: MR (29-0), Ho (39-28), WL (20-14). L: G (21-8), Re (21-20), RH (54-28).
Sigh. I don't mean to treat Wilde Lake like a Yo-Yo, but that's just how close this group of teams is. Had Wilde Lake beat Hammond 20-14 instead of losing 20-14, the No. 5 and No. 8 teams wouldn't have traded places. As it stands, though, the Wildecats have scored only 98 points this season, better than just three teams. The defense, on the other hand, has been excellent, holding the opposition to only 90 points, tied with Atholton and trailing only River Hill. This Saturday's match-up looks good on paper, as the Wildecats get a Long Reach defense which has allowed almost 37 points per game (that's not good). Then again, the Lightning defense has shown an ability to step up for big games, like when they held Atholton to 12 points three weeks ago.
Last week: lost to Hammond, 20-14. This week: home against Long Reach (1-5), Saturday at 1 p.m.
W: C (25-15), OM (34-0), Re (7-0). L: A (14-12 OT), MH (41-6), Ha (20-14).
9. (10.) Marriotts Ridge (2-4, 96-169)
When the Mustangs have lost it's been respectable, and even though they won't be making the playoffs, they've held their own in a very tough league this season. Things could get ugly this Friday night, but they'll have nothing to hang their heads about, and there might still be a win or two left in them.
Last week: lost to Glenelg, 27-7. This week: home against River Hill (6-0), Friday at 7 p.m.
W: OM (20-6), LR (28-27 OT). L: WL (25-15), RH (56-0), Ho (21-7), G (27-7).
10. (9.) Long Reach (1-5, 117-220)
Oof. Something is wrong with the Lightning. Earlier this season they were playing good teams tough and they even knocked off a probable playoff team in Atholton. But they've been giving up a grip of points (220). Only winless Oakland Mills has given up more (221). If they want to win out to preserve their long streak of seasons without a losing record, they'll need to tighten the screws.
Last week: lost to Howard, 62-29. This week: at Wilde Lake (3-3), Saturday at 1 p.m.
W: A (13-12). L: RH (52-16), MH (32-26 OT), G (34-6), MR (28-27 OT), Ho (62-29).
On the bubble: Centennial (1-5, 56-171), Oakland Mills (0-6, 25-221).
River Hill, 275
Mt. Hebron, 163
Long Reach, 117
Wilde Lake, 98
Marriotts Ridge, 96
Oakland Mills, 25
River Hill, 57
Wilde Lake, 90
Mt. Hebron, 95
Marriotts Ridge, 169
Long Reach, 220
Oakland Mills, 221
River Hill, +218
Mt. Hebron, +68
Wilde Lake, +8
Marriotts Ridge, -73
Long Reach, -103
Oakland Mills, -196