Wilde Lake figured to win yesterday's Class 1A quarterfinal easily over visiting Havre de Grace, but the Wildecats did not expect the Warriors to be so accommodating.
The top-seeded Wildecats feasted on eight turnovers -- two of which helped them take a 21-0, first-quarter lead -- while cruising to a 28-0 victory over the eighth-seeded Warriors.
The victory, Wilde Lake's eighth straight, sent the Wildecats (10-1) to Saturday's 1 p.m. semifinal against Easton. Wilde Lake is pursuing its third state championship in a row. Havre de Grace (6-5) made its first playoff appearance since 1988,
when it lost in the 1A final.
The Wildecats looked flat at times. Their offense stalled repeatedly, and their defense allowed the Warriors to move the ball consistently in the second half and eventually out-gain them in yardage, 172-149.
But the bottom line is the Wildecats were efficient when it counted. After recording its seventh shutout of the season, Wilde Lake has outscored its past eight opponents, 247-6.
"There were things we [the coaches] could have done to stop them, but we didn't do it today," said Wilde Lake coach Doug Duvall, alluding to the Easton scouts in attendance.
"The kids played well as far as doing what they had to do," DuVall added. "There was a point where they knew it was going to be ugly, and they lost their edge. I'll take an ugly, 28-0 game in the state quarterfinals any day."
Nate Cassella led Wilde Lake's offense with 100 yards on 12 carries. Mike Green rushed for 57 yards and two touchdowns on 12 carries. Donald Gibson ran for a touchdown, and quarterback Seth Willingham threw a TD pass and kicked four extra points.
The real story was the Havre de Grace offense, which saw good efforts by running backs Marvin Jackson (18 carries, 58 yards), ,, Mike Gibson (10, 59) and Ardia White (nine, 40) wasted by seven lost fumbles and an interception. The Warriors also had a punt blocked.
Linebacker Donald Gibson and defensive end Mike Green wreaked the most havoc. Gibson had six solo tackles, recovered two fumbles and intercepted Havre de Grace quarterback Jason Fox. Green had 10 solo tackles, including three sacks. He forced two fumbles and recovered a third. Paul Knox returned to the lineup after missing eight games with a fractured arm to make 10 solo tackles.
Havre de Grace practically handed the Wildecats three early touchdowns. Wilde Lake punted on its first possession, but on the return, Green caused a fumble that Gibson recovered at the Warriors' 42. The Wildecats cashed in six plays later on a 9-yard run by Green.
The Warriors' next possession was disastrous. Following two illegal procedure penalties and an incomplete pass, Andy Vanderwagen blocked a Havre de Grace punt that rolled to the Warriors' 6, where Kris Pual recovered. Two plays later, Gibson scored on a 4-yard TD run to make it 14-0 with 2:45 left in the first quarter.
Then, after the Warriors mishandled the kickoff and started at their own 5, Jackson had the ball stripped away by linebacker Chance Kelly. The Wildecats recovered at the 9, and on the next play, Willingham hit Craig Butler in the right corner of the end zone to give Wilde Lake a commanding 21-0 lead with 1:55 left in the quarter.
Six of the next seven Havre de Grace possessions ended with a turnover. After the final mistake, Green finished a six-play, 40-yard drive with a 7-yard run that concluded the scoring with 1:34 left.
"Everybody knew we were capable of doing much better, but with the gifts they [Havre de Grace] gave us, no one was real concerned," Cassella said. "We've got to pick it up next week. Easton is not going to cough the ball up. We're going to have to play with more emotion."