Just when I thought the county's tastiest football showdown -- Wilde Lake vs. Oakland Mills -- would reward our annually heightened expectations after two straight one-sided Wildecat victories, the luck of the Scorpions takes a terrible turn.
The Scorpions achieved a desperately needed, 28-3 victory Saturday over visiting Thomas Johnson (Frederick County). They rebounded from a frustrating 0-2 start behind a fearsome defensive performance, inwhich they held Thomas Johnson to minus 48 yards on 29 rushing attempts and allowed the Patriots past midfield just twice.
But in achieving its breakout victory, Oakland Mills broke down.
They lost senior running back/defensive back Akil Benjamin to a broken ankle in the second quarter. Then, midway through the fourth quarter, backup senior quarterback Kenya Edwards, normally a starting running back and also a wide receiver and defensive back, went down with a broken arm.Both are out for the season.
And the injuries were only the beginning.
With 5:44 left in the first half and Oakland Mills leading, 20-3, Scorpions quarterback Antwan Baker was ejected after a brief shoving match with a Thomas
Johnson player. The incident, which alsodrew a 15-yard personal foul penalty, followed an interception thrown by Baker, who then made the tackle.
Referee Walt Hurich's decision leaves the Scorpions' offensive backfield stripped bare going intothe biggest game of the season. Under county rules, if a player is ejected, the player must sit out the following game.
Baker will watch the proceedings at Wilde Lake Saturday, while Oakland Mills will throw a patchwork backfield at the Wildecats. Scorpions coach Ken Klock, mindful that some element of surprise is his only ad
vantage, is guarding his solution.
Klock, however, isn't guarding his feelings about Hurich's call. "The kid pushed Antwan, and Antwan pushed back. I thought it warranted a 15-yard flag but not an ejection," Klock said. "It's not like he was throwing punches. What gets me is the T.J. kid didn't get a flag or an ejection."
Hurich's judgment was well-intentioned but too hasty. Besides denying Oakland Mills its key player for Saturday's showdown, Hurich ignored the context of the foul.
In a sport as violent as football (before the two Scorpions' inju
ries, Benjamin knocked Patriots running back Phil Flannery semiconscious and out of the game with a ferocious hit), how can a three-second shoving match draw more than a 15-yard penalty and a stern warning to the players involved? Soccer players, whose antics inspired theone-game suspension rule several years ago, still receive a second chance in the form of a yellow card after committing fouls judged lessthan flagrant. Football players deserve the same break.
A loss toWilde Lake -- or anyone else -- in the regular season's final seven weeks will eliminate Oakland Mills from playoff contention. Injury and ejection problems aside, though, the Scorpions have no one to blamefor their predicament but themselves.
They blew a second-half, two-touchdown lead to North County in a season-opening, 22-21 defeat. Two weeks ago at Linganore, they committed seven turnovers and were penalized for 85 yards in the first half en route to a 14-10 defeat.
Wilde Lake, meanwhile, has looked less than overwhelming while getting off to a 3-0 start. But, outside of the huge health advantage the Wildecats now enjoy going into their Oakland Mills showdown, the Wildecats figure to improve steadily as they smooth out wrinkles in theirrun-and-shoot offense and their youthful defensive secondary.
TheWildecats have already surrendered four touchdowns and more big plays than last year's defense, which allowed only 29 points in the entire regular season. Linebacker Brent Guyton (42 tackles, two interceptions, two fumble recoveries) and nose-guard Tony Farace (32 tackles, four sacks, two fumble recoveries) have been sensational.
Offensively, the Wildecats are getting by with a sore Damon Hamlin (ankle) at running back. He's rushed for 256 yards and four TDs. Quarterback Phil White, who could have a field day against the battered Scorpions, has been terrific through the first three weeks. He's completed 26 of 55 passes for 513 yards, three TDs and no interceptions. He's also rushed for 137 yards and two TDs.
After Wilde Lake and Oakland Mills, the county's next division consists of Centennial, Atholton and Howard.
Centennial is off to a solid 2-1 start, largely because of their formidable offensive backfield.
Fullback Brian Kujawa (198 yards, 7.9 yards per carry, 3 TDs) and halfback Sean West (158 yards, 5.4, 2 TDs) give the Eagles two options, and quarterback Lawrence Holmes (13-for-21, 240 yards, 5 TDs) continues to get more comfortable behind an offensive line anchored by the out
standing Charlie Stewart. Kujawa and West have also combined for seven catches for 120 yards and two touchdowns. Linebackers Stewart (43 tackles) and Kujawa (17 tackles, 3 sacks) also lead the defense.
Atholton (2-1) is erasing last season's disastrous 3-7 record and having fun with Coach Don VanDeusen's run-and-shoot, no-hud
dle offense while doing it.
TheRaiders have already scored nine touchdowns, more than they did all of last year. Quarterback Brian Van Deusen has put the ball up 99 times. Van Deusen, who calls his own plays, has completed 46 passes for 571 yards and five touchdowns. He's also thrown eight interceptions, a price one pays for wide-open football.
Receivers Brian Gick (12 catches for 147 yards, 1 TD), Brian Smith (10 for 125, 2 TDs), Doug Scheuch (7 for 114, 2 TDs) and Bryan Egolf (8 for 130) are all gettinginto the act.
The Howard Lions know enough not to get too excitedabout 3-0 starts. Two years ago, the Lions opened at 3-0, then sank to 4-6. But this year's group looks a little more speedy and resourceful. They definitely have a flair for the dramatic.
The main reason for the Lions' good start? They've turned the ball over just three times, while recording nine takeaways. And they've come up with big plays at critical times. Kirk Wise, maybe the most promising junior inthe county, returned a punt 70 yards for a touchdown to ignite a 26-0 victory over Parkville, then returned an interception 60 yards to beat North Carroll, 14-6. Fullback Dave Jones also has returned an interception 55 yards for a score.
If Howard is going to carry its good start forward into a winning season, they must start producing more offensively. They've scored seven touchdowns, but the offense has just four.
Hammond (1-2), Mount Hebron (1-2) and Glenelg, the county's only winless team at 0-3, will have to work hard in the next seven weeks to make sure they don't land in the cellar.
Hammond suffered its worst loss in school history on opening day, a 41-0 blowout toPallotti (Prince George's County) and lost 28-6 to Chopticon (St. Mary's County) last week. The Bears' huge size -- their lines average nearly 250 pounds -- has also meant a a slower team that has not been able to sustain many drives. The defensive secondary has already yielded five touchdowns.
Mount Hebron must pick up the pieces from last week's embarrassing 30-12 rout at Northeast (Anne Arundel County), while Glenelg is still trying to give Coach Ed Ashwell his first headcoaching victory. The Gladiators have lost by eight, nine and five points.