Fourth-ranked Meade takes a nine-game winning streak into this weekend's Class 4A state playoffs, this from a school that is on a military base where nearly half of the players' parents are personnel affected by the terrorist events of Sept. 11.
"The initial panic and fear was understandable," said coach Kenny Gray, whose wife, Davette, a Department of Defense employee who grew up in a military family, helped to get a read on his players. "Some of the kids who live on base didn't know what the next move was."
In the days after the tragedy, school was canceled and the campus placed on "lockdown emergency, high alert," said Gray. Anne Arundel County allowed the team to practice Thursday at an off-campus soccer field, and on campus Friday and Saturday.
"One kid said the campus looked like a ghost town," Gray said. "They struggled to accept things that are out of their control. Football is a game that can teach life lessons, and playing was an escape route."
Meade quarterback Antwan Smith calls his own plays. Linebacker Travon Jolley, a 6-foot, 215-pounder, plays with intensity. Gray calls Rodney Jackson "Mr. Excitement" because he has returned three interceptions for touchdowns.
Meade (9-1) plays host to Old Mill (8-2) in a rematch of its earlier 40-14 win. If Meade wins, it will meet the winner between No. 6 Bowie (9-1) of Prince George's County and No. 3 Patterson (9-1). The Clippers, who play host to Bowie at Morgan State, are after career win No. 200 for coach Roger Wrenn.
Most feel that the strength of the 4A field is on the other side of the bracket. In one game, No. 8 Damascus (7-2) meets 1999 state champ and No. 1 seed Eleanor Roosevelt (10-0) of Prince George's County. In another, fifth-ranked Broadneck (9-1), the No. 5 seed, meets defending state champion and fourth-seeded Gaithersburg (7-2).
In Class 3A, seventh-ranked Randallstown got perhaps the most advantageous draw that it could. The third-seeded Rams (9-1), making their Baltimore County-leading 15th state playoff appearance, meet fourth seed Richard Montgomery (9-0), a team with its first playoff berth in school history, but which is coming off a 43-8 victory over Walter Johnson that secured its first unbeaten regular season since 1968.
If it wins, Randallstown then would face the winner between No. 9 Annapolis (8-2) and Patuxent (10-0) of Charles County, the No. 7 and No. 2 seeds, respectively. Annapolis was 3A state runner-up last fall to Calvert, which Patuxent beat earlier this year.
Two teams Randallstown won't meet unless it makes the finals are nine-time state champ Seneca Valley (9-0) and three-time champ Urbana (10-0). No. 1 seed Seneca meets No. 8 Westlake (9-1) of Charles County. The Seneca-Westlake winner will meet the winner between No. 5 Urbana and No. 4 Gwynn Park (10-0).
Calvert (9-1), last fall's Class 3A state champion, did not make the playoffs. The Cavaliers' only loss during the regular season was to Patuxent, 18-14. Westlake, the No. 8 seed, is a member of the Southern Maryland Athletic Conference with Patuxent and Calvert but did not play either team.
Anne Arundel County has four teams in the playoffs for the first time. ... Glen Burnie's Keith Williams, a 1,000-yard passing and rushing quarterback, was held to 57 yards in Friday's loss to Old Mill. He is one touchdolwn shy of the county record for rushing touchdowns for quarterbacks (23), and failed to become the first quarterback to lead the county in rushing yards.