When Atholton blanked River Hill, 14-0, on Sept. 16, there was no doubt as to which football team was better.
The Hawks never crossed midfield, gaining less than 60 yards of total offense and only two first downs in the game, and they turned the ball over five times.
"We couldn't get much going up front, and they were in our backfield all day," River Hill coach Brian Van Deusen said at the time. "They kicked our butts today ... but fortunately it's early in the year, and we've got a lot of time to get better and improve on this and hopefully we can get them back in the playoffs."
Flash forward to mid-November, and River Hill has its opportunity.
The Raiders (10-1) will host the Hawks (9-2) on Friday night at 7 p.m. for the Class 3A East regional championship, and this time, both coaches expect a classic showdown.
"They've made some changes personnel wise on offense, and they're starting to look like the offense I saw when I first got here," said Atholton coach Kyle Schmitt, who is now 2-2 against River Hill including a 10-0 win last year that ended the Hawks' 48-game county winning streak.
During the regular season, River Hill was led on offense by senior running back Aaron Wells (113 carries, 784 yards, 15 touchdowns), junior running backs Evan Griffin (46 carries, 425 yards, 5 touchdowns) and Stephan Osong (61 carries, 355 yards, touchdowns). Senior quarterback Raamah Vaughn rushed for 351 yards and six touchdowns on 67 carries, and was also 18-for-34 passing for 371 yards and five touchdowns.
A week after the loss to Atholton, River Hill was defeated by Hammond, while turning the ball over six times. In two losses, River Hill, the 2007 and 2008 state champion, turned the ball over 11 times. In nine wins, they've turned it over five times.
Schmitt is confident that whoever wins the battle of turnovers on Friday night likely will win the game.
"You look at Wilde Lake last year and they won football games with great defense, special teams play and turnovers," Schmitt said, referring to the 2010 state champion. "That's playoff football. Turnovers lose playoff games because possessions are so valuable."
One constant for River Hill has been defense, led by senior linebackers Riley Davis, Emmett Brew, Ryan Higgins, and linemen Alec Rau and Jason Johnson. The Hawks have allowed only 80 points this season (7.3 per game), and since the loss to Hammond, they've outscored opponents 278-33 with four shutouts.
The only county team with a better differential in that span?
Atholton, which has outscored opponents 321-34, also with four shutouts.
On defense, a stout crew led by seniors Ean Katz, Cameron Fogle and Steve Whiting has allowed a scant five points per game. Yet the Raiders' work this fall is far from done, and it won't be until they win their first regional and state titles.
The offensive attack of senior quarterback Brian McMahon (81-for-132, 993 yards, 10 touchdowns; 612 rushing yards, 6 TDs), receiver Dequan Ellison (39 catches, 632 yards, 8 TDs), and running back Kenny Thomas (125 carries, 871 yards, 17 TDs) has led the Raiders to their first outright county title and the best season in school history.
But the Raiders' work this fall is far from done, and River Hill will be standing in their way Friday night.
"River Hill-Atholton gets a crowd no matter what," Schmitt said. "There's so much on the line."
Glenelg (9-2) which won its first playoff game since 2003 last Friday, will host Douglass of Prince George's County (9-2) Friday night at 7 p.m for the Class 2A South regional championship.
The Gladiators lost to Douglass, 24-12, in the opening round of the 2009 playoffs.
"It'll be a battle just like it was" last Friday in a 17-14 semifinal win over Gwynn Park, Glenelg coach Butch Schaffer said. "There aren't any easy games in the South region."
Douglass defeated Gwynn Park, 14-6, during the regular season. Its two losses were to Archbishop Spalding, 21-8, and to Potomac, 22-14, in overtime.
Douglass defeated top-seeded Patuxent, 26-20, in the semifinals.
The Eagles are led on offense by running back Josef Hinnant (134 carries, 1,065 yards, 10 TDs), quarterback Taitor Reynolds (53-for-90, 972 yards, 14 TDs) and receiver Paul Harris (22 catches, 463 yards, 7 TDs).
Glenelg expects to get back leading rusher Nick Crabill, who missed last week's game. The Gladiators' second-leading rusher, sophomore Jared Jacoby, was injured late in the first quarter of the Gwynn Park game, but is also expected back this week at full strength.
"Whoever we've got we're going to play and our kids are going to play hard," Schaffer said. "That something about this team, they're young and they're going to give you everything they've got every play. That's what we preach and that's what they do. They're unselfish, they play as a group, they don't care who gets the credit, and they're going to step up when asked."