At this time last season, Carver's football team stood on the verge of an 0-10 season. Now, the Bears are undefeated and fighting for a playoff berth.
The turnaround from winless to 8-0 has been helped along by the Bears' drop from Baltimore City’s Division I to Division III, but new coach Ron Wallace said it's also fueled by players moving up from a junior varsity team that finished 8-2 last season in the top division.
“When I looked at the schedule I thought it would help us be competitive,” Wallace said. “The varsity didn’t win any games, but the JV was pretty competitive, so we built this varsity around those JV guys.”
Wallace, an assistant coach for last year’s New Town state finalist team, started with the basics.
“When I got the job, I started trying to build them on discipline and hard work to help them in the classroom, just to get them focused in the building,” Wallace said. “I knew I had a whole lot of talent, but just trying to get them to make good decisions in the classroom as well as on the field, just playing with a little more technique as opposed to relying on that athleticism. We’re trying to keep them focused on one game at a time, not looking too far down the road, approaching it as 10 one-game seasons. So far, it's been working."
The Bears have already earned the city’s Division III championship, winning it with last week’s 55-14 victory over Maritime. They finished 6-0 in the division, outscoring the opposition 175-28. Their offense
scored more than twice as many points as any other team in the division.
Now they’re battling for one of four playoff spots in the Class 2A North region. They stand third behind Dunbar and Randallstown, but they may have to win one of their last two games to stay in the top four.
Versatile juniors Derek Mason and Chris Jones have been critical to the turnaround.
Mason has quarterbacked the last two games, but he has also started at slot, running back and corner back through the season. An explosive, athletic player, Mason has three rushing touchdowns, leads the Bears in receptions and receiving yards, has scored on two punt returns and has picked off two passes.
Jones, a defensive back, also plays wide receiver, slot and running back. He saw a little time at quarterback as well. He has scored two rushing touchdowns, returned three kickoffs for touchdowns and intercepted three passes, returning one for touchdown. In the win over Maritime, he scored four times – twice rushing, on an 85-yard kickoff return and on a 45-yard interception return.
The Bears face their toughest opponent of the season this week, hosting City on Friday at 3 p.m.
Wallace, who played at City for Knights coach George Petrides, said it has been difficult in recent weeks keeping the players from looking ahead.
“The guys are fired up,” Wallace said. “It was hard last week to keep them focused on Maritime and keep them from looking forward to the City game. My guys are on social media and they’re talking to their friends and everyone's saying, ‘You guys don’t play anybody,’ so they’re excited about the opportunity to play City.”
If they can get past the Knights, the Bears could be in a battle of undefeated teams in the Nov. 8 regular-season finale when they head to Douglass, which is also 8-0.
For Wallace, the season has helped prepare the players for these tougher teams. He hopes the football program will continue to improve and earn its way back into Division I, where it would play teams such as Dunbar and City on a regular basis.
“The best thing for us it to have these types of games toward the end of the season,” Wallace said. “And, hopefully, we’ll get an opportunity to participate in the playoffs. This will give us much more of a gauge of how prepared we are for the playoffs. With two tough teams at the end of the season, this will give us a better gauge of where we are and where we need to be.”