The county's oldest and most revered football rivalry, Annapolis vs. Severna Park, takes a back seat in week No. 10 (when everyone plays its rival) for the first time since 1983.
Fourth-ranked Arundel (9-0, 6-0) at Meade (7-2, 5-1) is on center stage to determine the Class 4A county league championship. The result also has a bearing on where the county's two playoff-bound teams are seeded.
Arundel can become the 10th county team to go unbeaten in the regular season since 1960 and the third Wildcats team to do so. A Meade upset would spoil it and the county would have 4A tri-champions in Arundel, Meade and North County (6-3, 6-1).
Severna Park (5-4, 3-3) visits Annapolis (4-5, 2-4) in what will be the 37th game in 36 years between the two teams (played twice in 1987 with Severna Park winning, 9-7, in the regular season and, 16-7, in a playoff game), but for the first time in 12 years the game has no bearing on a county championship or playoff berth for either team.
Those are the stakes off Route 175, where coach Bill Zucco hopes to lead his Wildcats to the outright county championship it shared with state champion North County last year and gain top seed in the playoffs. That would mean home-field advantage in the quarterfinals and semifinals.
The Mears Trophy, named after the late Arundel and Meade coach Jerry Mears, goes to the winner. Mears' wife, Darlene, will present the award to the winner. Meade last won it in 1991 by 12-7 under Hayse Henderson, and current coach Jerry Hartman has lost his first two by 20-7 (1993) and 8-7 (1994).
It is Meade's first winning season since 1989 (7-3) and its first playoff berth since 1987 (8-3) and a win could avoid a first-round playoff rematch with Arundel.
A Meade loss likely would mean the eighth seed for the Mustangs with Arundel taking the top seed, and thus, they would play again.
The showdown matches the county's top two public school defenses. Arundel has given up only 100 points to 126 by Meade, but the Wildcats have the edge in overall offensive balance with an attack that has rung up 266 points (29.5 per game) to 198 (22.0) by Meade.
Quarterback Erik Lipton has passed for county-leading totals of 1,651 yards and 15 touchdowns. Mustangs sophomore quarterback Malwan Johnson has thrown about half as many times (150 to 79) and has 520 yards and six touchdowns in the air.
Meade has the county's leading rusher in Roman Harrison, who has gained 1,453 yards on 215 carries and scored a school-record 17 touchdowns, but Arundel's rushing committee matches up.
Arundel has used three backs who have scored five touchdowns each in Joe Williams (72-for-617), John Norsworthy (71,465) and Gene Collins (65, 440).
Terry Evans set Meade school records for rushing (1,522) and total points (116) in 1980 and Harrison (110 points) could surpass both tonight.
Williams broke an ankle last week and is out for the season, but it doesn't diminish the potency of the Wildcats' offense that also features two of the county's top four receivers in Darnerian McCants (25 receptions for 573 yards) and Joe Parker (24-541).
Lipton, who has been intercepted only four times, faces a defense that has a county-best 21 interceptions, led by Damion Moss' 10.
Annapolis clings to a 17-16-3 series lead against Severna Park, but has dropped seven of the past nine -- including a 33-13 decision last year as the Falcons clinched a playoff berth. Panthers coach Roy Brown will try to avoid his first losing season in seven years and Falcons coach Andy Borland (133-99, .573) wouldn't want to be the third county coach to reach 100 losses.
In other games, host Southern (3-6, 2-0) can win the 2A-3A league outright over South River (3-6, 1-1); Chesapeake (3-6) is at Northeast (4-5); Broadneck (2-7) is at North County (6-3); Old Mill (2-7) is at Glen Burnie (4-5); Severn (6-3) plays host to Cardinal Gibbons (2-6); and Spalding (3-7) visits John Carroll (4-3).
Tomorrow, St. Mary's (6-3, 3-1) needs a win at Calvert Hall (3-5, 1-2) and Loyola (4-4, 2-1) to upset top-ranked Mount St. Joseph (9-0, 4-0) for a share of the MIAA A Conference title.