Happy playoffs everyone! Now that the election is over we can focus all of our attention on what really matters, high school football.
And with the regular season coming to a close last week, I can finally stop straining my fat brain trying to figure out all the different playoff scenarios.
We have four teams in the 3A East regional semifinals: Top-seeded River Hill (10-0) will host fourth-seeded Mt. Hebron (6-4) and second-seeded Atholton (9-1) will host third-seeded Reservoir (6-4).
Howard fought valiantly, but was unable to pull off the upset against River Hill last week, losing 55-20, so the Lions (5-5) did not get into the postseason. But there was a minor shake-up when Hammond (5-5) upset Mt. Hebron, dropping the Vikings from the third-seed to the fourth-seed.
I previewed the playoff games a bit here if you're interested in that kind of thing.
The Reservoir-Atholton game is pretty intriguing. Atholton won 28-25 during the regular season, but that was in week two and both teams are much different now. The last few times they've played it's been very close, though, so we can expect the same this time.
Congratulations to Reservoir and coaches Bryan Cole and Sean Jones for making the postseason for the first time in school history! Look out for No. 24 Robert Armstrong, the Gators' first ever 1,000-yard rusher, and No. 1 James Simms, a force on both sides of the ball.
You have to give Atholton a slight edge because of the recent track record under coach Kyle Schmitt and crew, and because QB Luke Casey (84 completions, 1,351 yards, 12 TD/963 rushing yards, 10 TDs), RB Isaac Murray (1,002 yards, 7 TDs) and WR Keyon Pinnock (34 catches, 666 yards, 7 TD) have been in a groove lately. Junior Cody Stolar leads a much improved Atholton defense with 93 tackles. The Raiders have allowed only 52 points since a week four wake-up call loss to Long Reach, an average of less than nine per game.
Congratulations also to Mt. Hebron and first-year coach Phil Zacharias, for making the playoffs for the first time since 2003. The Vikings have a tall task ahead at undefeated River Hill. Even with playmaking QB Malik Gilmore healthy, Mt. Hebron lost to River Hill 37-0 back in week six, when both teams were undefeated. Gilmore injured his knee last week at Hammond, and I can't imagine him playing this week since he's got basketball season and a possible college football career ahead of him. RB Jackson Porter is also hurt with a shoulder injury. ATH Zachary Nicholas and WR Dillan Solo might be able to break a big play or two, but I just can't see the Vikings keeping up with the Hawks.
So far this season, QB Austin Altman has completed 75 passes for 1,689 yards and 21 TDs in 115 attempts. The 21 TDs are a school record, breaking Daniel Hostetler's mark of 18 from 2006. Altman's five TD passes against Howard last week was also a school record, breaking a record held by Ben Hostetler and Steve Glasgow. And his 1,689 passing yards broke Matt Hostetler's record of 1,500 set in 2001. (By the way, those Hostetlers are a good bunch of people, I'll say.)
P.S. Thanks to the River Hill web site for all this knowledge.
Altman has thrown scoring passes to five different receivers — Nick Ball (27 catches, 516 yards, 7 TDs), Evan Griffin (20, 495, 6), Justin Arn (10, 303, 3), Cory Daniel (9, 155, 3) and Stephan Osong (8, 151, 2). That would be one thing if River Hill was running a pass-first offense, but the Hawks have also rushed for 2,446 yards and 41 TDs, with Arn (764, 11), Griffin (734, 12) and Osong (449, 8) leading the charge.
Gilmore also did an excellent job of eluding pass rushers and turning would-be sacks into big plays with his uncanny scrambling abilities. While his back-up, sophomore Jake Snyder, has a bright future, he could have trouble escaping the grasp of River Hill's disruptive front-three: Anthony Corrao (63 tackles, 6 for loss, 7.5 sacks), Logan Kirby (70, 15, 4.5) and Justin Nestor (43, 8, 3). As a team, the Hawks have 76 tackles for loss and 36 sacks this season.
Corrao, Arn and LB Ryan Doyle (60 tackles) were all out with minor injuries for last week's 55-20 win over Howard, but all three are expected back for Friday's game.
In short, it doesn't look good for Mt. Hebron. But that, as they say, is why they play the games.
Glenelg (6-4) finished the season with a winning record as well, but missed out on the 2A South playoffs because there were three 9-1 teams (McDonough, Douglass-PG and Gwynn Park) and one 8-2 team (Patuxent) in their region.
Man, that region was a tough one to make the cut in. Glenelg just had the unfortunate luck of playing in an exceptionally difficult county this year. They basically would have had to beat Howard AND Reservoir to get in.
I'd like to now take a moment for a few shout-outs. To longtime Long Reach coach Pete Hughes, who announced that he is stepping down after this, his 17th season: thanks for everything Pete, it was a great run, you turned the Lightning into one of the most consistently strong programs in the area and we hope to see you back on the sidelines in a few seasons after you get some much deserved R&R. And to Malik Gilmore and Hammond RB Dionte Jones: I wish you guys a full and speedy recovery from your injuries last Friday night. (Jones rushed for 185 yards and three TDs ... in less than two quarters!) Please take the time to heal completely before getting back out there, though. Your long term health is much more important than trimming two weeks off of your recovery time. (Man, I sound like Stan Ber all of the sudden!)
Before we get into it, remember that these rankings are where the teams stand now, in week ten. It's not a congregate of the entire season, so I am ranking Howard and Mt. Hebron with their second string quarterbacks, I'm judging Atholton and Reservoir on their last five games and not their first five, Long Reach's week ten win over Centennial holds more weight than it's week five loss to Marriotts Ridge, and so forth.
If you'd like to argue the rankings, I welcome your comments. (I know our commenting system is a pain in the pillows to navigate, but you can always hit me up @ACHoCoSports. Twitter seems to be the way people are communicating now anyway.)
Barring a monumental pair of upsets this Friday night, this will be the final edition of the 2012 power rankings. Next week I'll switch the format to a playoff-preview-type thing, which I'll continue as long as we have a team still playing, hopefully into December.
Thanks to everyone for reading and for all of the feedback! It really has been fun.
Finally, before we get to the rankings, here is the always-fun part where we look back at the week one rankings, before any games were played, to see how dumb I was:
1. River Hill (point!)
2. Glenelg (I was a little bullish, but close)
3. Atholton (I always seem to underestimate them a little)
4. Howard (They probably would have been right around 3 or 4 without the injuries)
5. Hammond (They had ups and downs, but this was pretty accurate)
6. Wilde Lake (Offense was sluggish, but middle of the pack was about right)
7. Long Reach (Jekyll and Hyde team, but this was a fair guess)
8. Reservoir (Botch! Definitely underestimated the Gators this year)
9. Mt. Hebron (Botch! Definitely underestimated the Vikings this year)
10. Marriotts Ridge (At one point they were here!)
On the bubble. Centennial, Oakland Mills (Oakland Mills didn't win a game, but I should have had Centennial and Marriotts Ridge switched)
All things considered, I'd give myself a B-, grading on a curve. A lot of you would probably like to give me five upside the head, and that's OK.
Enough rambling, let's get to the main course!
(Last week's ranking in parentheses)
1. (1.) River Hill (10-0, 470 points scored-77 points allowed)
The Hawks have been in this spot all year, and they've answered every challenge. There's not really anything else I can say that hasn't already been said or won't be said during the next few weeks, so I'll just link to this instead...
Last week: beat Howard (5-5), 55-20. This week: home against Mt. Hebron (6-4), Friday at 7 p.m.
Wins: LR (52-16), OM (49-0), C (56-0), Ha (54-28), G (27-13), MH (37-0), MR (62-0), Re (41-0), WL (37-0), Ho (55-20). Losses: NA.
2. (2.) Atholton (9-1, 279-136)
The young Raiders team dragged its tail a few times during takeoff, but once they got airborne, they've been almost as good as River Hill.
Last week: beat Glenelg (6-4), 28-14. This week: home against Reservoir (6-4), Friday at 7 p.m.
W: WL (14-12 OT), Re (28-25), Ho (35-34), C (25-0), OM (48-6), MH (34-14), Ha (20-18), MR (35-0), G (28-14). L: LR (13-12).
3. (3.) Reservoir (6-4, 241-166)
The middle pack of the county is pretty dang tight — six teams are either 5-5 or 6-4 — but the Gators have separated themselves over the second half of the season by winning four out of five and making the playoffs.
Last week: beat Oakland Mills (0-10), 46-6. This week: at Atholton (9-1), Friday at 7 p.m.
W: Ha (21-20), G (24-0), C (38-14), Ho (29-18), LR (45-6), OM (46-6). L: MH (26-13), A (28-25), WL (7-0), RH (41-0).
4. (4.) Glenelg (6-4, 216-171)
Like I said above, Glenelg would have essentially needed to beat Howard AND Reservoir to make the playoffs this season. The Gladiators are a very good team — RB/WR David Brookhart will be one of the top returning seniors in the area next fall — but they had the misfortune of having to compete against Howard County teams on the field and 2A South region teams in the playoff standings. Ironically, they had a better chance of making the larger 3A playoffs than 2A (they still would have missed out by just two playoff points).
Last week: lost to Atholton (9-1), 28-14. This week: season complete.
W: Ha (21-8), LR (34-6), MR (27-7), OM (34-7), MH (29-12), C (30-24). L: Ho (28-14), Re (24-0), RH (27-13), A (28-14).
5. (8.) Hammond (5-5, 243-185)
The ball didn't bounce Hammond's way a few times this season, as they lost three games by a combined four points. But the Golden Bears ended the season on a high note, controlling Mt. Hebron, 35-13, and winning their last two games to finish with the fourth best scoring differential in the league. You could say that Mt. Hebron was handcuffed by losing QB Malik Gilmore early in the game, but Hammond lost its best player — RB Dionte Jones, who had already rushed for 185 yards and three TDs — before halftime as well, so they played on even footing. Hammond scored more points (28) on River Hill than any other team this season, and was the only team to score a passing TD against the Hawks (Tyler Martin to Corey Dickson). Freshman Deandre House looks like he could be a pretty good player down the road.
Last week: beat Mt. Hebron (6-4), 35-13. This week: season complete.
W: MR (29-0), Ho (39-28), WL (20-14), OM (33-0), MH (35-13). L: G (21-8), Re (21-20), RH (54-28), C (14-13 OT), A (20-18).
6. (5.) Mt. Hebron (6-4, 222-207)
The Vikings did enough during the first five games to make the playoffs for the first time in almost a decade, but the last five games have not been quite as kind, as they've lost four and been outscored 149-59. It would not be an exaggeration to say that they are literally limping into the playoffs (QB Malik Gilmore is on crutches). Still, the record books will indicate that Mt. Hebron made the playoffs in 2012, and that's an accomplishment in itself. Now they just need to build on this, and with guys like ATH Zachary Nicholas, WR Dillan Solo, LB Urek Bradshaw, RB/LB Marty Stevenson, etc., coming back, that's definitely a realistic goal.
Last week: lost to Hammond (5-5), 35-13. This week: at River Hill (10-0), Friday at 7 p.m.
W: Re (26-13), LR (32-26 OT), WL (41-6), MR (35-13), OM (29-0), Ho (20-14). L: RH (37-0), A (34-14), G (29-12), Ha (35-13).
7. (6.) Howard (5-5, 277-242)
It's been a rough season for the Lions, but when everybody was on the field, they were clearly one of the top teams in the league. Unfortunately, there were only a few games when everybody was on the field. Even still, their offense finished third in the league. RB Michael Anderson had an awesome season, and it looks like he could have a pretty good college career ahead of him. They're going to lose a lot, including some pretty good linemen, but WR/RB Josh Peoples showed a lot of pop this year, and he's only a junior.
Last week: lost to River Hill (10-0), 55-20. This week: season complete.
W: G (28-14), MR (38-7), C (21-7), LR (62-29), WL (14-7). L: A (35-34), Ha (39-28), Re (29-18), MH (20-14), RH (55-20).
8. (7.) Wilde Lake (5-5, 160-149)
The Wildecats ground-and-pound offense didn't put up any gaudy scoring totals this season, but paired with a traditionally excellent defense anchored by big man Moses Larose and tackling machine Eric Handy, it allowed them to stay in games. They beat every team they were supposed to, and maybe even one that they weren't supposed to (Reservoir, 7-0, in week five). QB Spencer Ampofo and WR Malik Jackson developed some real rapport this year, connecting for eight passes for 95 yards against River Hill. There's good talent in the pipeline (RB Al Rivera, Ampofo, Jackson), so look for Wilde Lake to return to its winning ways next year.
Last week: beat Marriotts Ridge (2-8), 20-0. This week: season complete.
W: C (25-15), OM (34-0), Re (7-0), LR (35-8), MR (20-0). L: A (14-12 OT), MH (41-6), Ha (20-14), Ho (14-7), RH (37-0).
9. (NA.) Long Reach (3-7, 212-348)
It was good to see Long Reach shine in coach Pete Hughes' final game, scoring a season best 47 points. This was just a hard team to figure out this year. They took Mt. Hebron to overtime in week two when the Vikings were at their hottest, they beat Atholton in week four, but then they lost to Marriotts Ridge and barely beat winless Oakland Mills (34-26). Hopefully we'll see Hughes back on the sidelines in a few seasons, and the Lightning do not have an empty pantry: they lose two real good RBs in Daquan Dixon and Xavier Haywood-Irani, but Rob Carter, Tom Montag and Mike Conlan are all juniors.
Last week: beat Centennial (3-7), 47-22. This week: season complete.
W: A (13-12), OM (34-26), C (47-22). L: RH (52-16), MH (32-26), G (34-6), MR (28-27 OT), Ho (62-29), WL (35-8), Re (45-6).
10. (9.) Centennial (3-7, 129-261)
After beating Hammond and Marriotts Ridge back-to-back in mid-October, and then playing Glenelg tough in week nine, I thought the Eagles were going to give Long Reach a good game last week, especially since Long Reach was coming off of five straight pretty bad showings. But, hey, that's football. Still, the Eagles took a step in the right direction this year and might have more proven returning talent than anyone in the league next year. Marriotts Ridge, which was on a bit of a roll in the middle of the season, but started slow and ended slow, losing its last five games by a combined 157-7, drops out.
Last week: lost to Long Reach (3-7), 47-22. This week: season complete.
W: OM (20-6), Ha (14-13 OT), MR (13-0). L: WL (25-15), RH (56-0), Ho (21-7), A (25-0), Re (38-14), G (30-24), LR (47-22).
On the bubble: Marriotts Ridge (2-8, 96-299), Oakland Mills (0-10, 64-368).
River Hill, 470
Mt. Hebron, 222
Long Reach, 212
Wilde Lake, 160
Marriotts Ridge, 96
Oakland Mills, 64
River Hill, 77
Wilde Lake, 149
Mt. Hebron, 207
Marriotts Ridge, 299
Long Reach, 348
Oakland Mills, 368
River Hill, +393
Mt. Hebron, +15
Wilde Lake, +11
Long Reach, -136
Marriotts Ridge, -203
Oakland Mills, -304