When Dunbar's Derrick Player approached Overlea lineman Mike Knoedler after watching him dominate an earlier game against Owings Mills, he had little idea he was looking at a future opponent.
"We knew we were both listed as Division I prospects in Street & Smith's, and we compared our teams," recalled Player, a 6-foot-5, 325-pound nose guard and two-way tackle. "I saw that he dominated the line of scrimmage, and they have two pretty good guards."
Player and Knoedler had seen each other only one time previously -- at last year's first-team All-Baltimore County/City photo session.
Their next meeting, however, takes place tomorrow night at Dundalk Community College as No. 4 Overlea (10-0) -- the top seed -- and No. 12 Dunbar (8-2) -- the eighth seed -- square off in the quarterfinal round of the 2A state football playoffs.
"Player was a real nice guy -- a real big guy," said Knoedler. "Too bad we'll be moving on, leaving his team in the first round."
With that begins the psyche jobs for Dunbar, top-ranked Poly, No. 2 City and No. 8 Patterson -- the four Baltimore City teams qualifying for the playoffs in their first year of eligibility.
"I don't feel we've played our best game yet, and we're not ready to pack our bags," said Dunbar's first-year coach Stanley Mitchell. "We want to play and win three more games -- all one at a time. We're preparing for Overlea like a championship game."
Poly (9-0) and City (9-1) begin 3A play on Saturday.
The top-seed Engineers play host to No. 13 Howard (9-1), which won its first Howard County title since 1975 and had a victory over three-time state champ Wilde Lake.
The sixth-seed Knights travel to third-seed Douglass (9-1), ranked No. 12 in the Washington area and the four-time 1A-2A-3A champ in Prince George's County.
Also on Saturday, Patterson (9-1), the city's 4A league champ, visits No. 10 Perry Hall (9-1) -- which edged the sixth-seed Clippers for the 4A North Region crown and the third seed.
"We've seen them -- they're impressive," said Patterson coach Roger Wrenn. "Mark Franklin and Mandel Marsh, we think, are two of the area's best running backs. They've also got an effective passer."
But so does Patterson in junior Willie McGirt (1,080 yards, 13 touchdowns), a fact that is not lost on Perry Hall coach Joe Stoy.
"They've got a good QB. We saw him against Southern," Stoy said. "They've got excellent people in the skilled positions, so our hands are full."
Poly running back Greg Kyler says city football gets little respect.
"To me, the majority of people, past and present, think better football is played [statewide]. So it's about showing what we're made of," said Kyler, who has 17 touchdowns on 984 rushing yards and 18 receptions for 260 yards.
But Kyler's coach, Augie Waibel, disagreed.
"If people wanted to play us so badly, why do we have to go all the way to Delaware to play Salesianum?" Waibel asked. "I'm happy we have four teams going. I hope we represent Baltimore City well."
City's Dwight Banks has 852 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns on 40 receptions and can't wait to show the rest of the state why many college recruiters are calling him the state's premier wide receiver.
"It's always been a thing of who's better, the counties or the city," said Banks. "I'm just going to play my game. I've never even heard of some of these teams anyway."
But City coach George Petrides will let Banks and his teammates know what lies ahead.
"We've got a pretty tough bracket with Douglass, and then either [defending state champ] Seneca Valley or Thomas Johnson," said Petrides, adding that Thomas Johnson is the state's No. 1-ranked team.
A large part of City's motivation, said Petrides, is getting back at the Engineers, whose 21-20 victory last weekend ended the Knights' winning streak at 29.
"That is a factor because the players were a little dejected after the loss," said Petrides. "But we're not looking past anyone. Douglass runs the wishbone real well."
So well, that City graduate and Maryland House of Delegates member Curt Anderson said P.G. County executive Paris Glendenning has issued a challenge to City graduates Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and Petrides.
"Paris told Schmoke he welcomes his alma mater, but this will be City's last game," said Anderson. "But I don't think so, and we're taking seven bus loads of kids to make sure."