Howard prepares to play Old Mill in post-Thanksgiving football game
By By Andrew Conrad and firstname.lastname@example.org
Nov 26, 2014 at 4:53 PM
While in years past, former Howard High School players and students may have used the Lions stadium field to meet up for post-Thanksgiving pickup football games, this year it will host a much more significant game.
On Friday night, at 7 p.m., undefeated Howard will host Old Mill (10-2) for a 4A state semifinal game. It is the Lions' first state semifinal football game since 1999, when Howard was still a 2A school.
"That's huge. When you're able to host a playoff game, that's a situation you want to put your kids in, no matter who you play," Lions seventh-year coach Bruce Strunk said. "You've got to beat everybody to be a champion, so why not have an extra game at home?"
Old Mill, a 30-minute neighbor to the southeast, is no stranger to the football postseason. The Patriots have been in the playoffs each of the last 16 years, winning the 4A state title in 2009 and 2011.
They started this season 0-2, after losses to Broadneck and Arundel, but responded with a 10-game win streak, including playoff victories over Broadneck and Arundel to get back to the state semifinals.
"Last year we went into the playoffs undefeated and we lost in the first week," fourth-year coach Chad McCormick said. "This year we started out 0-2 and we got into playoff mode very early ... we believed that we were in the playoffs since Week 3 no matter who we were playing because we couldn't drop another game and realistically expect to be in.
Howard, on the other hand, has only trailed in one game this season, and that was for less than a minute in what turned out to be a 20-15 win over 3A East regional champion Glenelg in Week 5.
But McCormick sees many similarities between the two teams.
"They remind me a lot of us ... Their defensive line has been fantastic from everything I've seen in film. They have strong linebacking, a strong secondary corps," said McCormick, who has a 43-6 record with the Patriots. "Offensively they look like they run the ball very well. Their quarterback is very efficient. I think it's going to be a great matchup, two very good football teams playing each other."
Both teams have an overwhelming defensive standout — Howard's Winston Delattiboudere III and Old Mill's Noah Fitzgerald — efficient quarterback — Howard's Kevin Sheahin and Old Mill's David Marrocco — and dynamic rushing leader — Howard's Najee Savage and Old Mill's Donovan Franklin.
"Winston is a great kid. He has a motor on the field and he's high spirited and a high motivational kind of guy. He's an important leader on our team, but we have a lot of leaders," Strunk said. "We're built to be a spread team. We're not built to be a power team like our opponent. Right now our guys are doing everything that our offense is supposed to do."
Old Mill's offense boasts a power run game with play action passing.
"Donovan (Franklin) has been healthy the entire year and he's run the ball a lot for us and run it very well. He's hung onto the football and he's moving the chains," McCormick said. "David Marrocco has been very efficient. We have a few weapons at receiver who he's been able to find open and he throws guys open as well."
While Howard has yet to taste a loss this season, Strunk says that his team has been prepared for anything it might come across.
"I've coached for a long time and Howard County schools really impress me. We have some very good programs ... it forces us to be better. I think our success and Glenelg's success is a tribute to our league and how tough our league is," said Strunk, whose team beat River Hill, 7-0, in Week 9. "We've had our tests, and our kids have showed their composure through all of them ... It's easy to play a game when you get on top of your opponent real quick and score a lot of points, but it shows your character in those close games."
McCormick is aware of Howard County's recent pedigree, and is excited to be a part of a battle for regional supremacy.
"It should be a great football game. Some of our other sports used to have the District 5 championships, but we've never really had anything with Howard County," he said. "It's pretty cool, the best of Howard County vs. the best of Anne Arundel County."