Another week, another surprising upset. That's been the theme of the 2012 Howard County football season, and it continued last Saturday afternoon when Centennial — losers of five games in a row coming into last week, and winners of only four games since the start of the 2010 season — spoiled Hammond's homecoming with a 14-13 overtime win.
Hammond, which has averaged 24 points this season, was looking for its third straight win. But Centennial scored on a 10-yard run by Walter Fletcher (116 total rushing yards) in overtime to tie the game, and then Nicholas Cooper kicked the ball through the uprights for the game-winning extra point.
"I thought that the county was going to be pretty even this year," Eagles coach Todd Kriner said. "No one was going to jump out in either direction."
Cooper, a freshman who tried out for the soccer team but didn't make the cut, has been a great find for Kriner, making six out of seven attempted extra points so far.
"I'm hoping that this (experience) won him over for us," Kriner said.
Damon Reaves had three catches for 69 yards for Centennial and also recovered a fumble and intercepted a pass. Alex Eason and Henry Heck also led the defensive effort.
It was the fourth overtime game in Howard County league play this season, and four teams have now lost their own homecoming game.
Just about the only team that has been immune to the upset this season has been River Hill, which has now won 17 games in a row, including last year's 3A state championship.
The Hawks (7-0) have shut out four opponents this year and outscored the opposition 337-57. They are three wins away from the county title, but their remaining opponents have played to a combined 12-9 record this season.
Realistically, Atholton (6-1) — coming off of a 34-14 win at Mt. Hebron (5-2) last Friday night — is the only team with any real hope of catching River Hill down the stretch. The defending county champion Raiders, who suffered their own upset loss against Long Reach (1-6) last month, will need to win out, while hoping that River Hill gets tripped up the way everyone else has.
"You can't sleep on anybody," said Atholton senior receiver Keyon Pinnock, who caught a 62-yard touchdown pass from Luke Casey in last week's win, and returned a kickoff 82 yards for a touchdown. "We're no longer tied for the No. 2 spot. We're No. 2 behind River Hill now but we've got a lot of work to do."
The Raiders won their first three games by a combined margin of six points before the disheartening 13-12 loss to Long Reach, but they've now won their last three games by a combined score of 107-20.
"They were such close games, but we won them, which was huge," coach Kyle Schmitt said. "I'm just thrilled with our senior class and it's just a really unselfish bunch."
The Raiders' offense — led by Pinnock (524 receiving yards, 5 TDs), Casey (1,063 passing yards, 7 TDs/652 rushing yards, 6 TDs), running back Isaac Murray (615 rushing yards, 6 TDs) and a solid offensive line led by captain Zach Plotkin — has been scoring points all season. But Schmitt says that the defense has been key to the team's improvement. Junior Cody Stolar already has 73 tackles, or more than ten per game.
"The defense has been awesome. That group's really improving," Schmitt said Friday night. "We didn't play great in the beginning of the year, teams moved the ball and controlled the clock, but tonight they played with a lot of energy and our defensive staff is doing a really good job."
Reservoir's big 29-18 win at Howard last Saturday led to a shift in the projected 3A East playoff teams, but after last week's games, the region is still dominated by Howard County. River Hill (8.86 playoff point average), Atholton (8.57), Mt. Hebron (6.14), Reservoir (5.71), Howard (4.86), Wilde Lake (4.71) and Hammond (4.29) hold the top seven spots, all but ensuring that the four-team tournament will be an entirely local affair.
While many are anticipating a postseason showdown between rivals Atholton and River Hill (the two teams will not play each other during the regular season), Schmitt is also preparing to see the Vikings again. If Mt. Hebron does hold on to make the playoffs, it will be its first appearance since 2003.
"I've known coach (Phil Zacharias) for about seven years now, and he's going to have that team ready," said Schmitt, who served as a grad assistant for his alma mater, the University of Maryland, in 2007 while Zacharias was the running backs coach there. "We might see them again in November. They're going to play well and they've got the ability to do it."
The season continues this Friday night with all 12 teams in action. Four of the six match-ups feature teams within one win or less of each other.
Friday night's schedule
Hammond (3-4) at Atholton (6-1)
Marriotts Ridge (2-5) at Centennial (2-5)
Mt. Hebron (5-2) at Glenelg (4-3)
Oakland Mills (0-7) at Long Reach (1-6)
River Hill (7-0) at Reservoir (4-3)
Wilde Lake (4-3) at Howard (4-3)