Three county high school football teams are headed to the state playoffs set to begin this weekend. Region IV champion Old Mill and second-year North County have qualified in Class 4A, while South River is going to the Class 3A playoffs.
Old Mill and North County are partof what is arguably the most balanced Class 4A Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association State Tournament ever. It is believed to be the first time that the top seed among the eight qualifying teams is not undefeated.
Montgomery and Prince George's counties have each fielded three teams for the 4A tourney, and Anne Arundel has two. Baltimore County'sWoodlawn finished 8-2, but was edged in playoff points by Paint Branch (8-2) of Montgomery for the eighth and final seed.
The four region winners earn first-round home games.
Old Mill (8-2), with its 4A Region IV title, is the No. 2 seed among the region champions in the tournament. Coach Pete Regala's Pats will play host at 7:30 p.m. Friday to No. 7-seed Largo (8-2) of Prince George's County.
North County (8-2) nosed out Thomas S. Wootton (8-2) of Montgomery County for fifth seed. The Knights of coach Chuck Markiewicz will travel to No. 4-seed Oxon Hill (8-2) of Prince George's on Saturday for a 1 p.m. game.
Two Montgomery County schools will face off at 7:30 Friday night: top-seeded Quince Orchard (9-1) at home against No. 8 Paint Branch (8-2). The other Montgomery team, sixth-seeded Wootton, will travel to No. 3 High Point (8-2) of Prince Georges for a 7:30 p.m. game.
Old Mill and North County would meet only if each got to the statechampionship game Saturday, Nov. 30. It would be a first for the county.
During the regular season, Old Mill took a 3-0 squeaker at home over North County, but the Knights ended up sharing the county 4A League championship with Old Mill and Severna Park by holding off Broadneck (5-5), 20-16, Friday.
The three teams finished 6-2 in county league play by virtue of Glen Burnie (5-5) upsetting Old Mill, 22-20, Friday night. Severna Park (7-3) scored on a six-yard touchdown pass from Tim Bowerman to John Milisitz with no time on the clock to stun archrival Annapolis (7-3), 16-14.
The way the seeds are set, ifOld Mill wins its first game, the Patriots would be home again on Nov. 22 vs. the Wootton-High Point winner. North County would play the Paint Branch-Quince Orchard survivor.
A North County victory over Oxon Hill and a Paint Branch upset of Quince Orchard -- not beyond the realm of possibility in this year of parity -- and the Knights would be home Nov. 22 in the state semis.
Old Mill is making its second straight trip to postseason play, but may not be going in with the best of team attitude after the Glen Burnie upset and rumored internal squabbling among the players and Coach Regala.
"You can look at the upset two ways," said Regala. "It might wake us up and get us going, or it could carry over and knock us down. But I think it will getus moving."
Several anonymous calls to my 24-Hour SPORTSLINE (647-2499) from parents the last couple of weeks predicted the Glen Burnie upset and alluded to morale problems.
Regala denied any serious team strife. "We had a little problem, but didn't kick anybody off the team. One kid quit and another kid had some discipline problems, but we took care of it as we should as coaches.
"You probably hear the same things I hear from the bleachers. You have to take it with a grain of salt," Regala said.
Of more concern right now to Regala and staff is the condition of senior two-way back Eric Sheppard, who chipped his ankle Friday night in the Glen Burnie game.
"Eric has the ankle in a hard cast, but it is supposed to come off Wednesday andhopefully we will be able to play Friday night," said Regala, adding, "It sounds like last year."
Last year the Pats lost in the firstround at home to Thomas Wootton, 17-7. It didn't help that Anne Arundel County Sun Player of the Year William Beverly injured an ankle and was unable to play for Old Mill in the playoffs.
"He (Sheppard) didn't break it and there is a good possibility he will play, but it is iffy right now. And Greek (running back Harold Peters) has been fighting the flu the last couple weeks. Hopefully he will be back full strength this week." Regala said.
North County is only in its second year, and was 8-2 a year ago as a 4A school playing mostly a 3A schedule. The Knights adopted the Andover schedule after the latter merged with Brooklyn Park to create the new county high school.
Moving into the rugged county 4A League this year, the Knights really distinguished themselves by gaining a piece of the county championship and coming from behind to win all but two of its games.
Markiewicz said his team played its best game Friday night against Broadneck.
The man who brought the exciting run-and-shoot offense to the county says that his junior quarterback Eric Howard is "comfortable now withour offense and throwing the ball well, and we're running a little bit now with Walker."
Walker is the Knights' two-way standout, Anthony Walker. Arguably the best all-around player in the county, the senior anchors the Knights' defense at linebacker and is an ox running the ball.
Markiewicz says Oxon Hill is used to playing a running game between two tight ends, while his team spreads out the offense, which may give Anthony room to maneuver.
North County turned the corner this season after the third game, a 33-7 loss at Annapolis. The Knights were actually in that game until early in the final period. Markiewicz said his guys realized that night that "the teams they weregoing to see every week weren't any better than them physically and that they weren't super men."
South River (9-1) ended up fifth seed in Class 3A despite having more playoff points (106) than everybodyexcept for top-seeded McDonough (10-0, 118 pts.) of Charles County. The Hawks, making their first postseason appearance since 1986 when Joe Papetti was head coach, had the misfortune of being in the same Region IV as McDonough.
The other 3A Region winners are: No. 2-seed Linganore (9-1, 102.3 pts.) of Frederick County in Region III, No. 3-seed C. M. Wright (10-0, 102 pts.) of Harford County in Region II, and No. 4-seed Seneca Valley (9-1, 100 pts.) in Region I.
As a result, South River will travel to Seneca Valley for a 1 p.m. game Saturday. Seneca Valley took the Region I title by hammering No. 7-seed Watkins Mill (9-1, 97 pts.), 43-28, Saturday in a game watched by South River head coach Dave Summey and his staff.
"They (Seneca) had problems with their lights Friday and had to move their game with WatkinsMill to Saturday afternoon," said Summey, who succeeded Papetti in 1989.
"So, we got to watch them play and they got to see us play Southern Friday night. (South River won, 29-7). Seneca is a very good team, a lot like Linganore."
Linganore is the only team to beat South River this season a 14-7 victory in the third week of the season at Edgewater.
"Seneca is like Linganore except that they might be little more explosive offensively. They have a very good tailback who is very elusive, shifty and quick and who has been playing for them since his freshman year," said Summey.
Bryan Blessing, a junior, isonly 5-foot-5 and 155 pounds, but as Summey saw Saturday, he can motor. In that romp over Watkins Mill, Blessing ran for four touchdowns and 210 yards on 26 attempts.
Summey believes that his own offense-- with quarterback Jake Cameron and running backs Chris Messineo and K. C. Palmer leading the way -- can play with the Screamin' Eagles'high-octane offense.
"Absolutely, I am confident," Summey responded. "Seneca Valley has a great football tradition and they have a very good coach. They will be well prepared and have no weaknesses from what I can see.
"They don't gamble and defensively. They play sound football with some very good players. But, we feel we also have some very good players. We believe we deserve the right to go over thereand play those guys."
A first-round victory for South River, and the Hawks will likely travel to top-seeded McDonough in the semis. Unbeaten McDonough was 12-1 a year ago, including a 3A title victory over C. M. Wright, 33-20. The team will play host to eighth-seeded Aberdeen (9-1, 90 pts.) of Harford County in the first round.
The other two first-round games in Class 3A match No. 2 Linganore at home vs.No. 7 Watkins Mill, and No. 3 C. M. Wright at home vs. No. 6 Douglass (9-1, 101 pts.) of Prince George's County.