There is a sign on the road that leads to the state 4A football playoffs and it reads: Contenders, beware of the also-rans and pretenders.
Anne Arundel County's top three Class 4A teams -- North County, Annapolis and Severna Park -- take on potentially dangerous teams tonight, leading to the temptation to look ahead. None of the opponents for the big three has a winning record, but all are capable of pulling off an upset.
North County (5-1), ranked No. 10 by The Baltimore Sun this week, leads Class 4A Region East with a playoff points average of 8.83, fourth best in the state. The Knights play host to Old Mill at 7 p.m.
Despite its 1-5 record, Old Mill is unpredictable. Opponents have to wonder each week which Old Mill team will show up, the one that handled Meade, 27-21, or the one that dropped a 20-13 homecoming decision to Chesapeake.
The Patriots have a very good running back in Butch Strong (366 yards rushing) and an excellent punter and up-and-coming quarterback in sophomore Chuck Manns. Manns is second to St. Mary's premier punter Mark Kiefer with an average of 39.7 yards per kick to the leader's 46.9.
North County is coming off a 27-20 victory at Severna Park in which Teon Carter scored three touchdowns. The Knights had not played well for two weeks and had been upset by Arundel, 20-14, the week before Severna Park.
With the victory over the Falcons, the Knights took over the East Region lead. The four region winners advance to the state playoffs along with the next four teams with the best averages.
Certainly the Knights are in good shape as a result of the Severna Park win, but must avoid looking ahead to a showdown at with Annapolis (5-1, 8.16, sixth in region) next week.
Coach Chuck Markiewicz has been reminding his team that such a mistake can't be repeated if it hopes to return to the state 4A playoffs.
Eighth-ranked Annapolis is also on the road, at improved Chesapeake (3-3). The Cougars spoiled Old Mill's homecoming one week after the Patriots had won their first game.
Chesapeake quarterback Matt Michalowicz, who has completed nearly 40 percent of his passes (36-for-92) for 652 yards and three touchdowns, makes things happen.
Michalowicz is more mature than he was as a sophomore and that's why Annapolis coach Roy Brown can't hardly expect a 40-7 romp like his Panthers enjoyed last fall. If the Panthers don't keep Michalowicz and the Cougars in check, this could develop into a high-scoring game.
Annapolis would have the advantage if that was to happen mainly because of senior running back Kenny Boyd, who has rushed for 854 yards and 13 touchdowns, including four in a 35-13 rout of Meade last week. The Panthers have outscored their opponents, 164-50, in six games and the Cougars have been
It would be easy to look ahead to North County, but Annapolis came close to that mistake once. The Panthers might have been looking ahead to their first county league game with Old Mill when they struggled to edge 1-5 Mount St. Joseph, 6-0, in the third week of the season.
Coming off the loss to North County, 15th-ranked Severna Park (4-2, 6.66, tied for 12th in state averages) plays Arundel (3-3) at 7:30 tonight in Gambrills. Glen Burnie (3-3) and Old Mill follow before the Falcons' grand finale at Annapolis.
The Falcons can't afford another loss if they hope to qualify for postseason play. They have to assume that the Arundel that upset North County will show up, rather than the Wildcats who were handled by Glen Burnie, 20-0, last week.
Broadneck (4-2) needs a win at Northeast (2-4) at 7 p.m. in Pasadena to keep its Class 3A playoff hopes alive, and 12th-ranked Southern (5-1) continues its march to the Class 2A playoffs by playing host to North East (0-6) of Cecil County at 7 p.m.
Southern trails Cambridge-South Dorchester (6-0) in 2A Region East, but the Dawgs are seventh overall in ratings for the eight berths.
St. Mary's (3-2) hopes to notch its first win in the Maryland Scholastic Association A Conference (0-2) when it plays host to Mount St. Joseph (1-5) at 1 p.m. tomorrow at Anne Arundel Community College. The Saints of coach Brad Best easily could be 5-0, having lost two heart-breakers by 18-16 to third-ranked Gilman (4-0) and 14-10 to No. 5 McDonogh (5-0).
Severn School (2-4) is 1-1 in the MSA B Conference and is primed to upset league-leading and 14th-ranked St. Paul's (5-1, 2-0), which visits tomorrow at 3 p.m.