After seven weeks of the high school football season, issues with the county championship picture arose.
A new schedule, which included a tier of teams eligible to win the county title and a tier not eligible, meant Marriotts Ridge — 5-1 against county opponents at the time — wasn’t eligible to win the county crown.
Eleven days later, the Marriotts Ridge football team defeated Atholton, 35-7, to win a share of its first county championship in program history.
“Not too bad for a second-tier team,” said head coach Marcus Lewis. “It’s been 15 long years. We’ve endured a lot as a program, and these kids deserve it. They’ve worked really hard for it.”
Senior Ryan Reeling talks Marriotts Ridge football after the Mustangs defeated Atholton, 35-7, for a share of their first county title in program history.
The win — led by senior fullback Ryan Reeling’s two touchdown runs and a ferocious defense that allowed fewer than 100 yards of offense and forced two turnovers — marks the 180-degree turn for a program that established in 2005, didn’t win a game between 2009-11 and went 4-6 last season.
“We took our lumps early,” said Lewis, who was on former head coach Ken Hovet’s coaching staff and is now in his eighth season at the helm. “It took us four years to have our first winning season. We were 7-3 in 2008. Then when Ken passed away, from 2009-12, we lost 32 straight games. It’s been a grind to get back ever since.”
Reeling said the feeling of celebrating with his teammates after the win was one he’d been “hoping and praying would happen for a long time.” The Mustangs dumped the water cooler on Lewis after the triumph, but the real celebration came after seeing on Twitter that River Hill — the team Marriotts Ridge (7-1 Howard County, 8-1) defeated for the first time in school history earlier this season — had beaten Howard to clinch the Mustangs’ three-way share of the county crown with the Hawks (8-1, 8-1) and Glenelg (5-1, 6-3).
Howard County athletics voted to fix issues that have arisen regarding which football teams are eligible to win the county championship and which games count toward the league standings in an emergency meeting on Monday, Oct. 21, 2019.
“Everybody’s doubting us, and that definitely gave us a chip on our shoulder,” Reeling said. “We knew they didn’t think anything of us, and we’ve been proving them wrong.”
While Marriotts Ridge led 28-0 at halftime, the story of the first 24 minutes at Atholton High School was the Mustangs’ stout defense.
Arguably the best defensive unit in the county, the Mustangs defense — led by corner Jaylin Moore, defensive linemen Jack Baxter and Nick Harris and linebackers Zach Bedell and Reeling — dominated the Raiders offense, allowing only 14 yards of offense and no first downs while forcing two turnovers — interceptions by Moore and Jericho Garvin. The unit won the field position battle, providing the Mustangs offense with six drives that started in Atholton territory in the game.
“We have a standard that we set for ourselves as a defense, and tonight we lived up to it,” Reeling said. “We played our hearts out tonight.”
Quarterback Casey Pung scored the first touchdown of the game with a 1-yard QB sneak after Zach Bedell’s 44-yard run put the Mustangs inside the 5-yard line. Then, after five straight punts, Garvin’s interception and 44-yard return put the Mustangs offense inside the 5 to set up a 2-yard rushing score from Reeling.
“Ryan’s a man,” said Lewis of his two-way senior. “He plays hard all the time, at practice and in games. He’s a grinder. I’m glad we have him.”
Marriotts Ridge then scored on its next two drives. Pung found a wide open James Tolle for a 27-yard passing score to increase the lead to 21-0, and Reeling ran for his second touchdown late in the half to go into intermission up 28-0.
“Hopefully we’re hitting our stride at the right time,” Lewis said. “We’ve had some good practices the last few weeks. They’ve been locked in, and we’re seeing the results on the field.”
The defense’s only hiccup of the game was Atholton’s first drive of the second half. Atholton quarterback Ethan Brown connected with two different wideouts on 20-plus-yard passes and scored on a 1-yard QB sneak for the Raiders’ lone touchdown of the game.
Bedell, who led the Mustangs with 95 yards rushing on 15 totes, scored the final touchdown of the night late in the third quarter to put Marriotts Ridge up 35-7.