FREDERICK -- Visiting North Carroll's Steve Suter is one of the area's best players, but Thomas Johnson has one of the state's best football traditions.
So while North Carroll's second-team All-Metro pick might have been the best player on the field last night, the five-time defending league champs, playing at home, had more depth to win both teams' Central Maryland Conference opener, 31-14.
The win was Thomas Johnson's third after a season-opening 7-0 loss to Middletown, including a 14-6 victory over defending Class 3A state champ Friendly, from Prince George's County.
Quarterback Robert Staley paced Thomas Johnson to a 17-7 halftime lead, rushing for 127 yards and a touchdown and completing six of 11 passes for 76 yards. Teammate Joe Harrell, who rused for 63 yards, scored twice in the third period for a 31-7 lead.
An interception by Tom Wasniewski at the North Carroll 33-yard line set up the Patriots' third score with 9: 52 left in the half, a 3-yard run by Mike Daye four plays later.
Suter, who is bound for the University of Maryland on a football scholarship, finished with 17 carries for 129 of his team's 142 rushing yards, including an 85-yard touchdown, his ninth of the season.
The 5-foot-9, 180-pounder entered the game with 614 yards, an average of 204 yards and two scores per game. In last night's first half alone, Suter rushed for 110 yards on 14 carries and a touchdown, punted once for 46 yards and knocked down a pass that prevented a touchdown.
"Anything for the team," said Suter, who felt his commitment to Maryland has attracted extra attention from opposing defenses.
The defending Carroll County champion Panthers (2-2) did not get into the game until Suter used his 4.3-second, 40-yard dash speed to break an 85-yard touchdown run down the North Carroll sideline with 8: 13 left in the first half. Mike Crouse's extra point made it 17-7. But North Carroll didn't score again until Erick Busick's 11-yard run with 2: 20 to play.
Some of Suter's best running was done "while he was running 70 yards sideways" while side-stepping defenders, his coach, Bill Rumbaugh, said. "The truth is, we need to do a better job blocking for him, or he wouldn't have to do that. He's just a tremendous athlete."
North Carroll also got excellent defensive play from Zack Dabkowski (one sack), Greg Winebrenner, who had a sack and a touchdown-preventing fumble recovery, and Vinnie Ladevaia with a sack.
"We have trouble getting started in the first quarter, and we start out slow in the second quarter," Rumbaugh said. "Somewhere between now and next week against Frederick, we've got to figure it out."
Pub Date: 9/24/99