The message Wilde Lake running back Austen Merrills had taped to his left wrist said it all: "Execute."
Merrills and his Wildecat teammates took that message to heart last night at Howard High, where they scored on every possession and rolled over the Lions, 52-0, in the first game played under Howard's new lights. A big crowd was on hand.
Merrills, whose older brother Mario plays for Maryland, put up 131 yards rushing and scored four touchdowns, three from scrimmage and the other a 45-yard punt return.
"It was the most exciting game of my life," said Merrills. "My linemen all executed. Nothing compares to this. We're a good team and will be a great team."
The Wildecats struggled through a 5-5 season last year and used that to motivate themselves during the off-season. "Last season left a sour taste," Merrills said.
That off-season preparation in the weight room paid off.
"We got off the football, offensively and defensively," said coach Doug DuVall. "The kids came with a sense of purpose. Not one kid has missed a practice, and that shows they are serious about it."
DuVall heaped praise on his quarterback, Hamp Fields, his blocking fullback, Doug Smith, and on Merrills. He called the team more talented than the one that won Wilde Lake's last state championship in 1997.
"We're big, run the ball well and play good defense," DuVall said. "We're balanced. The kids really rally behind Hamp at quarterback."
DuVall said his team wanted to do some passing and can pass. But the touchdowns came so fast on the ground, they never needed to.
"Before you knew it, it was 'Katie, bar the door,' " he said.
Merrills scored on runs of 8 and 30 yards in the first quarter and 1 yard in the second quarter.
Brandon Bell scored on runs of 18 and 51 yards in the second quarter. And A.J. Case scored on a 49-yard run in the third quarter. Merrill's 45-yard punt return for a touchdown was in the third quarter. Chauncey Mayfield scored on a 19-yard run in the fourth quarter.
"Wilde Lake was just a much better football team," Howard coach Vince Parnell said. "They were bigger, stronger and faster. It's the best Wilde Lake team I've seen in at least six years. They dominated everything. I hope we're not as bad as that score. People are going to find out that Wilde Lake is a pretty good football team."
Howard, which took Wilde Lake into overtime before losing in each of the last two seasons, had only 82 yards offensively, 44 of them on quarterback Tim McNulty's pass to split end Buster Grant on the Lions' last series.
DuVall told his players after the game that they "can reach a high-water mark this season," meaning they could win a state championship, something Wilde Lake has accomplished five times under his direction.