One week ago, the Howard County football universe was generally in order. A minor upset here and there, but for the most part, the teams had fallen into a somewhat predictable collection.
That is until Hammond, and senior quarterback Tyler Martin, traveled to River Hill last Friday night and pulled off one of the most stunning upsets in recent Howard County football history.
Martin completed 31 of his 41 pass attempts, for 441 yards and six touchdowns — three to sophomore Deandre House, two to senior Lolando Hamilton and one to senior tight end Brendan Urban — to defeat River Hill, 47-38, and end the Hawks' 30-game winning streak. River Hill had allowed only 24 points all season coming into last week, and hadn't allowed more than 40 points in at least a decade.
"We were just trying to get our receivers the ball in space, using all of our weapons," said Martin, who rushed for the Golden Bears' seventh and final touchdown. "We changed up the pass protection a little and my teammates really stepped up to help me out a lot and I'm really proud of them … I just had to close my eyes (after the game) and think about it. It's not really going to hit me until tomorrow."
Before the impact had hit Martin — who was also the last quarterback to beat River Hill, as a Hammond sophomore back in 2011 — it already sent shock waves through Howard County. The loss dropped River Hill (6-1) into a tie with Glenelg for first place in the league, but that wasn't the only important upset last week.
Howard, which had lost two games in a row, rallied to knock off Centennial, 29-26, leaving both teams at 5-2.
"We needed this win really bad," coach Bruce Strunk said. "We came roaring back, and I think we put it all on the line."
In fact, a third of the league — Centennial, Hammond, Howard and Reservoir — now sits at 5-2: three wins away from a near certain playoff berth, or three losses away from a .500 season.
If Glenelg — which now boasts the league's top defense — can get past Centennial this Friday night, the Gladiators will be well on there way to a share of the county title, with Long Reach (1-6) and Atholton (0-7) as their final two opponents. River Hill, on the other hand, still has tough games against Howard and Reservoir.
In addition to the county title race, last week's wild outcomes also shook up the playoff races. Howard, which become Howard County's first 4A school this year, is still on the outside looking in even after the big win over Centennial. The Lions sit behind Paint Branch (6-1), Perry Hall (6-1), Sherwood (5-2) and Kenwood (5-2) and will likely need to win out against Hammond (this Friday night at 7 p.m.), River Hill and Long Reach to hope to get in.
Hammond, flying high after the River Hill win, could still need to win out as well to get into the highly competitive 2A South postseason. The Golden Bears hold the No. 4 seed, behind Patuxent (7-0), Gwynn Park (7-0) and Douglass-PG (5-2).
"This means a lot. Being in the 2A South, we've got to win out to make the playoffs," said first-year coach Justin Carey, who faces a tough final slate against Howard, Wilde Lake and Centennial. "This is definitely a momentum builder."
But the real battleground in regards to Howard County teams is the 3A East. After the tumultuous Week 7, Glenelg has taken the top seed away from No. 2 River Hill, Reservoir has moved into the No. 4 spot behind City, and Centennial has dropped all the way to sixth, behind Digital Harbor.
The Eagles, looking to make the playoffs for the first time since 1980, still have to play Glenelg (this Friday night at 7 p.m.) and Hammond in the season finale.
And if Reservoir wants to protect its No. 4 seed to make a return trip to the playoffs, it will likely need to win out against Wilde Lake, Atholton and River Hill in the season finale.
Thursday, Oct. 17 result
Mt. Hebron 14, Wilde Lake 7
Friday, Oct. 18 results
Hammond 47, River Hill 38
Howard 29, Centennial 26