Howard's Bruce Strunk likes winning as much as any football coach, which is to say quite a bit. But what he really relishes is a good challenge.
So it is that Strunk is looking forward to Friday night's showdown with Glenelg, winner of three games in a row by a combined score of 73-15, as much as if not more than his players.
"These are the fun ones," said Strunk, whose team is 4-0, joining defending state champion River Hill as the league's final two undefeated squads.
Led by the running back tandem of senior Terrell Charles and sophomore Malik Anderson, the Lions also have one of the league's most prolific offenses, scoring 123 points through four games, only three fewer than league frontrunner River Hill.
Friday night's game at Glenelg will be a clash of strength-against-strength, as the Gladiators have allowed only 22 points all season, including three in a convincing 35-3 win over previously undefeated Hammond last week and seven in a close week one loss to River Hill, 7-3.
"I'm expecting it to be a good game. Glenelg is going to be a big hurdle," Strunk said. "But I told our guys that they've earned the right to play in these kind of games."
The Gladiators have been beating teams this year behind the power of their line play up front. Seniors Jordan Alexander, Craig Burris and David Robbins weigh in at a combined 740 yards, and helped 12 different Gladiators rush for more than 320 combined yards in the dominant win over Hammond last week, led by David Brookhart (84 yards, 3 TDs) and Jared Jacoby (94, 1).
"Our line does a tremendous job and they've been playing together for three years," Glenelg coach Butch Schaffer said. "We just tried to mix it up, we've got a lot of guys who can run the ball."
But Howard's linemen, led by Matt Von Neida, Peter Emery, Jon Chalfant and Craig Brauer, are not going to simply lay down.
"We're pretty young up front but we pride ourselves on our bend-but-not-break defense," Strunk said. "We've got seven or eight underclassmen on both sides of the ball, but we're growing every week and we've got a few seniors who have really led us."
All games this week will be played on Friday night at 7 p.m.
Other compelling match-ups include Hammond at Reservoir, Oakland Mills at Marriotts Ridge in a battle of 1-3 teams on three-game losing streaks, and River Hill at Mt. Hebron in a rematch of the 2012 regional semifinals.
Friday, Sept. 27 results
Glenelg 35, Hammond 3
Howard 35, Mt. Hebron 13
Reservoir 49, Oakland Mills 21
River Hill 42, Centennial 7
Wilde Lake 28, Marriotts Ridge 7
Saturday, Sept. 28 result
Long Reach 15, Atholton 14
Friday, Oct. 4 schedule
Hammond (3-1) at Reservoir (2-2)
Howard (4-0) at Glenelg (3-1)
Long Reach (1-3) at Centennial (3-1)
Oakland Mills (1-3) at Marriotts Ridge (1-3)
River Hill (4-0) at Mt. Hebron (0-4)
Wilde Lake (2-2) at Atholton (0-4)