Damascus coach Al Thomas calls Southern-Anne Arundel "a once-in-a-lifetime team," and it might take such a team to dethrone his Hornets.
First-time playoff team Southern meets defending champion Damascus at 4 p.m. today at the University of Maryland's Byrd Stadium for the state Class 2A championship.
Both teams are 11-1, and Southern hopes to become only the third Anne Arundel County team to win a state title in football.
Damascus (23-2 over the past two years) outlasted Walkersville, 12-7, last fall to win its second state title and first in 10 years. The Hornets are making their fourth trip to the finals in the past five years under Thomas, the former Seneca Valley coach who is 9-2 in playoff games as Damascus coach.
Thomas won five state championships in 14 seasons as coach of the Screaming Eagles before moving to Damascus six years ago for a chance to coach his son Mark, now a quarterback at Salisbury State.
While winning has been a way of life for Thomas, Southern coach Buck Gardner (94-108 overall) had never gone better than 6-4 (seven times) in 20 seasons until this fall.
Damascus is in football-crazy Montgomery County, and school supporters take their football so seriously that when school renovations limited parking spaces, they rented three buses at $100 each to shuttle fans from nearby stops.
"It's like a mini-college program there," said Gardner. "They love their football in Damascus, and it's practically year-round football.
"They've got 12 coaches and scouts, and I've heard they draw 2,500 or more on Friday nights."
Gardner has five assistants and until this year was fortunate to draw 1,500 fans a game in Harwood, where basketball has been king for almost three decades. Southern crowds have swelled to nearly 2,000 this fall on several occasions as the team's offensive numbers have risen.
"It's a once-in-a-lifetime team, and they've [the Bulldogs] got the most potent offense of any team in the state," said Thomas. "Southern has every offensive weapon you need, and they show no mercy."
The Bulldogs tied Beall of Frostburg for a state record in total points scored (366) in a 10-game regular season. The record was 352 by Allegany in 1979.
Southern also tied the state mark for most touchdowns (54) in the regular season. Smithsburg of Washington Couny first did it in 1979.
"I think he's right, from a standpoint of points scored and all the things we can do offensively," said Gardner of Thomas' accolades.
"Most teams have one standout back and game-breaker, but we've got three to four."
Southern's senior-dominated backfield features running backs Corey Contee (1,177 yards rushing), Jamar Mullen (702) and Jason Poknis (895). Contee is the county's leading scorer with 128 points on 16 touchdowns and 32 extra points.
Contee is one of three Bulldogs with 100 or more points scored and 4.5-second speed or better in the 40-yard --. Mullen has 112 points and receiver Wayne Small has 104.
Joe McCafferty has thrown for 946 yards and 19 touchdowns despite throwing fewer than 100 passes. The senior quarterback has been intercepted only four times, and has used Mullen (17 receptions, 396 yards) and Small (24, 452) as his favorite targets.
Southern is equally talented on defense, with most of the same players going both ways. It has outscored opponents, 423-103, in 12 games with an opportunistic defense that features Contee (six interceptions), Mullen and Small (four interceptions each). Small also has a school- and county-record six fumble recoveries.
"This is one game where the other team doesn't outweigh us 70 to 80 pounds a man," said Gardner, whose team eliminated two huge teams in Potomac, 14-12, and Dunbar, 43-24, to advance to the title game.
Both teams averaged about 190 to 200 pounds on their lines, but Damascus has a 6-foot-3, 230-pound Division I prospect at nose guard in Erik Bickle, who figures to go head-on with the pile-driving Poknis.
Other key Damascus defensive players include defensive end Brandon Ray, tackle Chris Allnutt (6-5, 220), linebackers Lucas Milne and Fern Jaramillo, and safety Joe Dunn, a three-year starter.
Damascus has outscored its opponents, 303-99, and won playoff thrillers over Fort Hill, 13-12, and Cambridge-South Dorchester, 21-20 in overtime.
Offensively, the Hornets are led by junior quarterback Kevin Thompson, whose 1-yard plunge coupled with Dean Turnbull's extra-point kick beat Cambridge. Running back Mike Ryan and sophomore end Brian McMahon also have starred.