Doubling the number of playoff teams and playing nine regular season games are just some of the changes made for high school football in Maryland. Arguably the biggest in Howard County has been eliminating the full-county schedule, meaning for the first time in years some teams are facing non-league opponents during the regular season.
Glenelg the last two weeks played Smyrna, one of the top teams in Delaware, and Urbana, a 4A school in Frederick County. Both games have been decided late and by one score — the Gladiators came from behind in the final seconds to beat Smyrna, 29-26, but blew a 14-point, fourth-quarter lead and lost to Urbana, 49-42, in overtime — and have been “great for our kids,” coach Tim Cullen said.
“I don’t see too many negatives to it,” he added. “I think it’s great to see how they measure up against some bigger schools and some better competition as well.”
The opponents haven’t been totally foreign to Glenelg. Cullen said he spoke with the coaches at Smyrna, Urbana and Westminster over the summer, and they all agreed to trade film of their games, something county teams do for each other to help teams prepare.
“I think both sides were happy with that. We’re happy to see what we’re going up against,” Cullen said. “It’s tough when a team refuses to trade with you and then somehow they get film anyway. Fortunately, that hasn’t happened to us but that’s always the fear.”
Seeing new opponents brings new excitement as well. Cullen said the environment at Urbana on Sept. 20 “was like a playoff game with their student section,” and he called Smyrna “one of the most talented teams I’ve ever seen on the field.”
It’s a contrast to last year when Glenelg shut out four teams in the regular season, three of which are not on its schedule this year, and scored at least 33 points in nine of its 10 games against county opponents before the playoffs.
Some teams, however, haven’t altered their schedule at all. River Hill and Oakland Mills don’t play any non-county teams, while Atholton, Long Reach, Marriotts Ridge, Mt. Hebron, Reservoir and Wilde Lake each play one.
Overall, wins against outside competitors have been hard to come by. In fact, Glenelg’s win against Smyrna is so far the only one for a Howard County team.
Centennial, which plays just two county opponents this year, has dropped games to Catonsville, Francis Scott Key and Loch Raven. Hammond has fallen to Catonsville and Parkville; Howard lost to South Hagerstown and Loyola Blakefield; Long Reach to Woodlawn; Mt. Hebron to Northeast-AA; and Wilde Lake to Oakdale.
The county is just 1-11 against outside competition through three weeks, but with eight teams qualifying for the postseason in each region, the impact of those losses isn’t what it used to be. In many regions, four wins — or perhaps even fewer — will still likely be enough to qualify for the postseason.
The 2A West, 3A East and 4A East regions — which each have Howard County representation — all have 11 teams. Only three in each will miss out on the playoffs.
“It would be nice to come out with those wins because at the end of the day you’ve still got to win to get into the playoffs,” Cullen said. “It’s a little easier to get in but you still have to qualify.”
Glenelg travels to Westminster on Friday before finishing the regular season with five games against county teams. Howard hosts former playoff rival Sherwood, while Hammond hosts Southern-AA and Centennial hosts Aberdeen.
Centennial’s Matthews enjoying strong start to season
Entering the season, the Centennial Eagles hadn’t scored a touchdown since Nov. 4, 2016.
After not being able to field a team in 2017 and being shut out in nine games in 2018, Anthony Matthews’ touchdown against Catonsville in Week 1 of this season was more gratifying than the average touchdown.
“Before the game, I promised the whole team that we’d score, whether it was me or if I was helping someone else score,” Matthews said. “‘We’re not going 0-fer anymore,’ is what I told them. After I scored, it was amazing. The players, fans and alumni were all hyped.”
Despite the Eagles’ 0-3 start, Matthews is putting on a solid senior campaign. Matthews ranks in the top five in Howard County in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns with 11 catches for 240 yards and two touchdowns.
“Ever since I got the job here and I started working with these guys, I knew he had the talent,” said Centennial head coach Billy Martin. “You can tell he wants it and he has that drive inside of him. … For as good of a player he is, he is just as good of a kid, if not better. (He’s the) highest character kid and he makes his family, school, teammates and me proud every day.”
The person throwing the ball to Matthews is senior quarterback Malik Chester, who Matthews said is one of his best friends. Chester is 27 of 57 for 385 yards, three touchdowns and four interceptions this season.
Martin believes Matthews ranks among the top of wide receivers in Howard County.
“Of course, I’d take him any day,” Martin said. “You see what he’s doing here. We have talent here, but it’s a program that’s trying to be rebuilt. The see the numbers he’s putting up in a rebuilding program is a testament to the player he can be. I’d like to believe he could be the No. 1 guy anywhere.”