Annapolis and North County are one win away from what would be the biggest moment in Anne Arundel County high school football history.
If fourth-ranked North County (10-1) beats Crossland (11-0) tonight at Friendly in Prince George's County and sixth-ranked Annapolis (10-1) wins its 1 p.m. game tomorrow at Gaithersburg (10-1) in Montgomery County in the state 4A semifinals, it would set up the first all-Anne Arundel final.
Anne Arundel County teams have won two state championships in football, Arundel in 1975 and Annapolis in 1978. Only two other county teams have made it to the championship game, and it was in the same season.
Annapolis lost to Randallstown, 14-6, in the then-Class AA final, and South River dropped an 18-15 decision to John F. Kennedy High in the then Class A championship game.
There has been a legacy of futility for Anne Arundel in the state football playoffs, but wins by Annapolis (making its county-record eighth appearance in postseason) and North County (its second straight) could ring in a new era.
Annapolis with its power football would represent traditional Anne Arundel football, and North County with its prolific run-and-shoot would represent the new breed.
It's quite a contrast, but it could happen.
First, both teams are pumped, truly believe they are going to win, and are facing teams similar to the ones they beat in the quarterfinals.
North County rolled over 12th-ranked (9-2) Perry Hall, 34-7, and Annapolis defeated (8-3) Friendly, 21-6.
Perry Hall was a power team, like North County's opponent Crossland. Gaithersburg is an option, play-action kind of team with an excellent quarterback, like Friendly, which was the perfect rehearsal for the Panthers.
"Their backs are Kenny Walker types [Meade's 5-11, 185-pounder], bigger backs, and they like to play you straight up just as Perry Hall did," North County coach Chuck Markiewicz said of Crossland. "They're a solid football team, not that big overall."
Only North County has scored more points (427) statewide than Crossland (359), a 21-0 winner over Largo (7-3) in the quarterfinals. Cavaliers coach Larry Layman, a Millersville resident who has had three sons graduate from Old Mill, agrees with his counterpart.
"Yes, we are basically a power-I football team, but occasionally we mix it up," Layman said.
Crossland quarterback Jason Williams, who also kicks, drew high grades from Markiewicz.
"Their quarterback is pretty good and very athletic," Markiewicz said.
Williams completed eight of 16 passes for 146 yards and a touchdown, and kicked field goals of 23 and 39 yards in the Cavs' playoff opener.
Layman is equally impressed with North County's record-setting quarterback Eric Howard (151-for-259, 2,229 yards and 28 touchdowns), but is well aware that he's not the only concern.
"No question, they are a pretty good football team and move the ball well in that run-and-shoot, and after seeing them run it against Perry Hall, that only complicates things for us in preparing for them," Layman said.
Layman and his staff watched the Knights' Frank Brown (1,604 yards, 24 TDs) plow his way for 292 yards and two touchdowns against Perry Hall.
This is the second trip to postseason for the Cavs in Layman's 15 years as head coach. Crossland lost to eventual state champion Annapolis in the 1978 semifinals.
The only team to stop North County this year was Annapolis, by 20-19 in the third game. The Panthers kept the run-and-shoot off the field by controlling the ball, and they were able to do so because they have so many outstanding athletes.
Tonight, North County runs into a similar squad in Crossland, another club with more than its share of good athletes.
"We were successful against Severna Park [48-19] and Perry Hall, teams that try to run the ball down your throat, so we can punish Crossland, too," said North County's two-way back, Mike Quarles, who predicted "a defensive game."
The same could be said for the Annapolis-Gaithersburg matchup. Both teams like to keep it on the ground, Gaithersburg with its option and Annapolis with its off-tackle, quick traps.
Quarterback Eric Frazier and all-purpose back Andre Parker, who had three touchdowns in the Trojans' 27-0 quarterfinal victory over Laurel (8-3), are the two main players for Gaithersburg.
"Their quarterback is similar to Friendly's, but is a little quicker," Annapolis coach Roy Brown said.
"The quarterback can run and throw as opposed to North County's, who can't run. They love to run the freeze option like Syracuse does, and that's what we have to guard against. And they use two, three backs besides Parker."
Gaithersburg coach John Havrill, in his 35th season, has turned a 3-7 team in 1991 into his third playoff team. The Trojans' last appearance in postseason came in 1989 when they eliminated Annapolis in the first round of what was Brown's rookie season as coach.
"Just as then, we know that Annapolis has a good, sound defensive ballclub, and their offensive line comes off the ball as well as any team we've seen all year," Havrill said.
"Our defense is going to have to play well for us to win."