In high school football, drastic improvement from one year to the next more often than not comes from within.
Centennial, for example, won only six games in the past three seasons combined, but routed Oakland Mills (1-1), 59-20, Sept. 16 to improve to 2-0 for the first time in more than a decade.
“The county is very wide open and I feel like we are one of the best teams,” said senior running back Walter Fletcher, who rushed for three touchdowns and more than 225 yards in Monday’s win. “We’re starting out on fire and we’re just ready to go. There’s no looking back and this is a new team. Expect big things from Centennial this year.”
Fletcher joined the Centennial varsity with several other current seniors as sophomores in 2011, when the team was shut out six times and finished 1-9.
“That helped us a lot. We took two losing seasons and we used that as motivation, and I’ve got to give a lot of credit to our line, they have improved tremendously,” said senior Chase Conley, who caught a 25-yard touchdown pass from Tyler Morris in the third quarter. “This offseason we just went at it, we worked hard everyday, a lot longer than we ever did before, and you can see it on the field. We’re a lot more intense out there, we just want to fly around and hit.”
Conley also led the Eagles’ defense with 9.5 sacks.
Fellow senior Quinn Western rushed for two touchdowns and more than 100 yards.
“We had a lot of guys touch the ball, and that’s OK,” coach Todd Kriner said. “There’s more optimism, there’s more confidence, and more ownership. They’re policing themselves a little bit and they’re encouraging themselves to work when all the eyes aren’t quite on them and picking themselves up, and that’s how you get better.”
The Eagles jumped to an early lead when Wesley Brown forced a fumble on the one-yard line and Connor Marcinek recovered in the end zone for a touchdown.
Oakland Mills closed to within four points before halftime, 24-20, on a 74-yard touchdown run by Dershone Hayman, a 10-yard run by quarterback David Pindell, and a 12-yard touchdown pass from Pindell to Kaiyon Stanfield over two defenders.
The Scorpions were hamstrung by six turnovers, including interceptions by Western, Brown, Conley and Damon Reaves.
“You can’t turn the ball over. Centennial is too good to play with all of those mistakes,” Oakland Mills coach Thomas Browne said. “They’ve got the same kids, but a year older. That makes a big difference.”
But the Scorpions, who overpowered Long Reach, 44-6, last week to end a 17-game losing streak, are also greatly improved.
“We have kids on this team who have been up with me for three years now on the varsity, you have kids that long and you look at continuity and it makes a difference, we’re kind of in the same boat (as Centennial),” Browne said. “Obviously we got outplayed tonight, but we’ve got a lot of things that are improved this year and we’re going to keep hacking away at it.”
With its 20 points on Monday night, Oakland Mills matched its scoring total of 64 points from all of 2012 through the first two games this fall.
“We knew Oakland Mills was a lot better than they had been lately, and we didn’t take them lightly, and that benefited us,” Conley said.
Centennial sophomore Nick Cooper was a perfect 8-for-8 on extra points and also kicked a 25-yard field goal.
OM (1-1) 0 20 0 0 - 20
C (2-0) 10 14 14 21 - 59
C: Marcinek fumble recovery in end zone (Cooper kick), 6:41.
C: Cooper 25 field goal, 1:28.