At this point in the season last year, the Howard County football league was in disarray.
Only two teams were undefeated — Glenelg and Hammond.
Meanwhile, perennial favorite River Hill was on the verge of meltdown. In week three, the Hawks were shut out by eventual county champion Atholton, 14-0. That loss preceded an unheard of second setback in a row a week later at Hammond, when River Hill turned the ball over six times.
"We're going through some adversity right now," coach Brian Van Deusen said at the time. "We've just got to get better and get a little more healthy and hopefully get a chance to get into the playoffs and make a run."
And that's exactly what they did. After that loss, River Hill began a 10-game winning streak that ended with a 41-13 drubbing of Thomas Johnson at M&T Bank Stadium for the 3A state championship, the program's third.
Hammond took a divergent path.
They lost to Glenelg the next week on a last-second field goal and never recovered. The Golden Bears won just two games the rest of the way to miss out on a second straight playoff appearance.
This Friday night, Sept. 21, River Hill will host Hammond in a rematch of that pivotal game. Van Deusen is not using last year's win streak as motivation, but rather the stinging defeat that spurred it on.
"We talked about that on Saturday at practice," Van Deusen said. "Last year was a tough one, and we want to bounce back from that."
So far this season, River Hill has not missed a beat from last year's state championship run.
Through three games, the Hawks have outscored their opponents 157-16, including two shutouts in a row. River Hill's 141-point scoring advantage is almost 90 points better than the next closest team, Mt. Hebron (99-45).
Key to the Hawks' continued success, Van Deusen says, is the senior rushing tandem of Evan Griffin and Stephan Osong, and the play of senior quarterback Austin Altman.
"We were excited about what we had coming back with Griffin and Osong, and we're a little bit bigger than we were last year," he said. Altman "throws the ball really nice and he's got some great receivers with Griffin, Justin Arn and Nick Ball, so we've got a little more balance on offense."
Mt. Hebron's surprising season continued with a 41-6 win at Wilde Lake last week, to improve to 3-0 for the first time since 2004.
Atholton, coming off of a 35-34 win at previously undefeated Howard; Mt. Hebron; and River Hill are the last three undefeated teams in Howard County.
Atholton has outscored its opponents by a total of just six points this season, including an overtime win over Wilde Lake in the season opener.
"We're playing good teams, and that's why it's close. But when we come out and play with that much energy and that much heart, there's not much that can stop us," said senior quarterback Luke Casey, a Mount St. Joseph transfer who has already scored nine touchdowns (five passing, four rushing). "I just love this team."
Atholton, which ended River Hill's 48-game league win streak in 2010, and River Hill, which derailed Atholton's near-perfect season in the 3A East regional championship game last year, do not meet this season.
"That's been a big game the last couple of years. It's been a nice rivalry, so that was kind of disappointing," said Van Deusen, an Atholton alum. "But there's a good chance we'll see them in the playoffs, so we may get to play them after all."
However, neither team is overlooking Mt. Hebron, which visits River Hill on Oct. 5 and hosts the Raiders one week later.
Marriotts Ridge ends 32-game slide
The Mustangs made this year's homecoming game one to remember, ending a 32-game losing streak by defeating Oakland Mills (0-3), 41-13, on Saturday, Sept. 15.
Chase Sanchez threw touchdown passes to Byran Barney and Duncan Campbell, and Marcus Smith rushed for two touchdowns. Jordan Brown also scored a rushing touchdown, while RJ Bryant returned an interception for a score. The Mustangs' defense was led by senior linebackers Jack Dawes and Lyle Fugate.
Marriotts Ridge last won on the final day of the 2008 regular season, defeating Centennial, 38-20.
Friday night: Glenelg (2-1) at Reservoir (1-2); Hammond (1-2) at River Hill (3-0); Long Reach (0-3) at Atholton (3-0; Marriotts Ridge (1-2) at Mt. Hebron (3-0); Wilde Lake (1-2) at Oakland Mills (0-3).
Saturday, 1 p.m.: Howard (2-1) at Centennial (1-2).