Overlea and Western Tech showed early-game jitters in a football game that could have decided the champion in Baltimore County's Division 2A-1A as well as the top seed in the Class 1A North regional playoffs.
Both teams fumbled away their initial plays from scrimmage, but Overlea settled down first and got a 28-point jump on the Wolverines en route to a 34-16 victory Saturday at Arbutus Middle School.
The visiting Falcons improved to 7-0 overall and 4-0 in the division, and they extended the area's longest active winning streak to 11 games.
Senior running back Alex Wells, who scored two touchdowns, said the team is enjoying its success under its second-year coach Craig Rollins.
"I think it's a gift right now," Wells said. "We've kind of come out of our selfish ways. I'm glad we finally got ourselves together and can play as a team now. It used to be every man for himself, and now we just pick each other up and look at him as my brother."
The Falcons used a multifaceted offense and opportunistic defense to spark their early lead over the defending division champs. The Wolverines (5-2, 2-1)struggled to hit their stride offensively in the first half and turned the ball over three times.
Just before the first Overlea touchdown, Western Tech's defense seemed to have Falcons quarterback Tevin Berry hemmed in, but Berry scrambled out of trouble and hit Dequan Pettway, who broke two tackles and ran 33 yards for the score as time expired in the first quarter.
On Western Tech's next drive, quarterback Jamal Pryor, running to the outside, lost the handle on the ball and juggled it before Sherrod Hawkes picked it out of the air and ran 30 yards for a 13-0 Falcons lead with 9:30 left in the half.
Wells added a 21-yard touchdown run and, less than four minutes into the second half, made it 28-0 with a 65-yard punt return.
Things went much better for Western Tech in the second half. Although Wells scored on the punt return, the Wolverines dominated possession and allowed the Falcons only four plays from scrimmage in the first 18 minutes of the half.
Powerhouse junior running back Payton Beachum led the Wolverines as they ground out two touchdowns to pull within 28-16 with 5:50 to go. Beachum, who gained 108 yards on 18 carries in the second half, ran the ball on 15 of 22 plays in the two scoring drives and reached the end zone on 1-and 3-yard carries.
The Falcons stopped the comeback attempt when the elusive Berry hit Jeff Jones with a 13-yard touchdown pass with 1:14 to go.
Coach Alan Lagon was pleased with the resiliency of his Wolverines, who have a young team and an all-new backfield.
"They have to learn that, in games of this magnitude against good teams, the margin of error is much smaller," Lagon said. "Second half, we executed much better. I think it gave our kids a lot of hope. It gave me a lot of hope, because that was a very positive response to the hole we dug."
Overlea 34, Western Tech 16
O 7 14 7 6 -- 34
W 0 0 8 8 -- 16
O—Pettway 33 pass from Berry (Sturdivant kick)
O—Hawkes 30 fumble rec. (kick blocked)
O—Wells 39 run (Wells run)
O—Wells 65 punt ret. (Sturdivant kick)
W—Beachum 3 run (Cross pass from Pryor)
W—Beachun 1 run (Beachum run)
O—Jones pass from Berry (pass failed)