Benning makes young Wildecats toe offensive line

COLLEGE PARK — COLLEGE PARK -- With just one starter returning to the Wild Lake offensive line this season, many, including coach Doug DuVall, had their doubts about whether the Wildecats could get the job done.

Cedric Benning was the veteran, and he was particularly nervous. With the success of the Wildecats' ball-control offense in the balance, the pressure was on the line to produce.


And Benning had to teach them how.

"They were young and inexperienced," said Benning, the 6-foot, 220-pound leader. "I didn't trust them to do the job. They were a bunch of young kids, and I had to try to teach them how to play."


But the young Wildecats turned out to be excellent pupils. After a shaky beginning, they progressed throughout the season, and yesterday helped lead Wilde Lake to its third consecutive Class 1A state championship with a 23-7 victory over Cambridge at the University of Maryland's Byrd Stadium.

The Wildecats gained 163 of their 199 yards on the ground, as running backs Nate Casella and Mike Green found running room all day. Tackles Jay Green, Josh Feldmesser and Donovan Burns, guards Eric Lach and Carlo Gerstenfeld, and Benning, at center, got stronger as the game progressed, wearing down the smaller Vikings' defense.

They helped Wilde Lake score more points against Cambridge than any other team this year. Before yesterday, the Vikings had allowed fewer than five points a game, never giving up more than eight.

"The offensive line has really come on," said DuVall. "It's a whole group of kids who have over-achieved. We were able to do things out there that I never thought we could do."

Things like using Casella, once a starting tight end, as an effective weapon at running back. In nine games, Casella gained 890 yards, including 351 in three playoff wins.

Against Cambridge, Casella gained 98 yards, and backfield mate Mike Green 48.

"At first we were only an average team, but the offensive line has really come around," said Green. "Now I feel really great running behind them."

Said Jay Green: "We've gone from an average line at the beginning of the season and really stepped up a level. We've learned a lot. Now we know which spots to go to and who to block."


Benning said the turning point came after the team's only loss of the season -- a 28-27 overtime defeat to Southern of Anne Arundel County in late September. The loss ended a 28-game winning streak and brought some players down to earth.

"Before that, they took it for granted that we'd win," said Benning. "After that, they started reading the play book and working hard."

After the loss, Wilde Lake outscored opponents 282-20, winning every game in dominating fashion.

"I've seen a lot of improvement," said Benning. "They've gone from having no skill to almost having too much. I think they're ready to four-peat."