No. 4 Calvert Hall (6-0) vs. No. 1 Gilman (4-1)
Friday, October 8 @ 7 p.m.
This MIAA A-Conference showdown may just be the game of the year. Gilman comes in fresh off a bye week after conquering the toughest five-game stretch in the state, including signature wins over Good Counsel, DeMatha and Spalding. Darius Jennings and Co. lead one of the most exciting offenses in the state. Calvert Hall, meanwhile, enters with an unblemished 6-0 record. Their stifling defense has allowed a total of 33 points all year (none in the last three games).
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No. 3 Good Counsel (4-1) vs. No. 13 DeMatha (3-2)
Friday, October 8 @ 7 p.m.
At the beginning of the season this primetime matchup was a cold, hard lock to be the game of the week. It was supposed to be a battle between two 5-0 teams vying for the right to be No. 1 in the state. On top of that there were storylines abound, from DeMatha's revenge of last year's WCAC final's loss, to Good Counsel's new swagger, to the best recruits in the state squaring off.
Some of those leads still prevail, but the game itself has lost some luster. Not only is this not a matchup between the state's top two teams, but it's not even a game featuring the WCAC leaders (DeMatha is currently tied for fourth place). Good Counsel is playing well, but their loss to Gilman earlier this year ruined their perfect record. DeMatha, on the other hand, has not held up their end of the bargain at all. The Stags are struggling, and if they play like they did last week in a 32-25 loss to Gonzaga then this game will be over by halftime.
All told, this is still a must-see for high school football fans. When these two rivals get together all the records and trends should be disregarded. Good Counsel will undoubtedly continue playing at a high level, but expect DeMatha to amp up their game, too.
In the last three years these two juggernauts have met six times, once in the regular season and again in the WCAC championship game. Like any good rivalry they've split those six meetings down the middle, although DeMatha owns a two-games-to-one edge where it counts: the WCAC finals. Last year, however, the Falcons ended the Stags' six-year reign atop the conference, pulling a 14-7 upset in the championship game. It was Good Counsel's first WCAC title. Needless to say, memories of that game will be fresh in both teams' minds.
Good Counsel enters the matchup on a three-game winning streak. Since surrendering 28 points to Gilman they've allowed a total of 20 the last three weeks, including a shutout over McNamra last week. Plus their offense, which sputtered at the beginning of the year, is slaughtering teams to the tune of 45 points per game in the last three weeks.
Quarterback Zach Dancel continues to progress. He threw for a season-high 167 yards against State College (Pa.) and followed up by completing 100 percent of his passes (5-for-5) in a rout of O'Connell. This week he'll get his top receiver, Stefon Diggs (16 catches, 303 yards, 8 touchdowns), back. For the last couple games Diggs has been lining up at running back in order to spark the offense and replace the injured Wes Brown. But Brown, the team's No. 1 rusher, returned to the lineup last week and should be ready to run against DeMatha.
Moreover, the Falcons' veteran offensive line has started to play up to their potential. Peter Sotiriou, Stephen Snyder, Mike Madaras, Pat Walsh and Ryan Watson are all college prospects and form perhaps the most formidable line in the state. Tight end Vincent Croce (Virginia) is equally adept at blocking and receiving.
Defensively, the Falcons are abusing teams with a ferocious front four, a savvy linebacker corps and a ballhawking secondary. Last week they held McNamara to one first down for the game.
There isn't a tackle around (besides maybe DeMatha's Cyrus Kouandjio) who can hold defensive end Croce in-check. Croce's partner-in-crime, Joe Rosenblatt, is an underrated pass rusher, while Madaras and Watson are bulls in the middle. Middle linebacker Michael Jefferson is the anchor, however; he's quick to diagnose plays and he's got the ability to stuff the run and drop back in coverage. In the secondary, Blake Countess, Kendall Fuller and Diggs have combined for double-digit interceptions.
Countess and Diggs double as kick returners. The former took two kicks to the house last week and the latter did the same earlier this season.
DeMatha can match Good Counsel in every way, but the question is, Will they be able to? The Stags started the season with two shaky victories over Loyola and Friendship (D.C.) before Gilman exposed them in Week 3, 35-10. But one loss to a top-rated team is acceptable, and many figured DeMatha would bounce back. They responded with a 41-6 beat down of Paul VI, but last week the bottom dropped out. Gonzaga, a team they'd beaten 11 straight times, racked up 422 yards of offense en route to a 32-25 upset.
The Stags' defense is officially a chronic problem. They've given up 30-plus points in four of their five games. They've allowed 136 points this season, which is nine more than they allowed all of last year.
Gonzaga quarterback Kevin Hogan threw for 225 yards against them, the second time this season a passer has torched the Stags' secondary. Their performance is mystifying considering Jordan Lomax, Darien Harris and Michael Williams are all Division-I players and Tavon Bailey has that potential. But the defensive backs are hardly the only culprits. DeMatha has also allowed 100-yard rushers in three of five games this year. That responsibility falls on four more D-I recruits: Brent Wilkerson, Michael Moore, Kendall Patterson and Darian Cooper.
The story is better on the offensive side, where DeMatha is averaging 28 points per game. But that comes with a caveat: some of their touchdowns have come in garbage time (see: Gilman), while others have come after long, barren stretches (see: Friendship Collegiate). The Stags have been plagued by interceptions, injuries and ineffective blocking. Quarterback Nikolay Uherek has put up decent numbers (582 yards, 61 percent completion rate), but he's also thrown four picks, including two last week.
The running game, meanwhile, is missing feature 'back Delonte Morton, who is out with an ankle sprain and hasn't played since Week 2. Running back Jacob Siwicki has done an admirable job filling in (back-to-back 100-yard games), but Siwicki isn't the menacing presence Morton is. The line has been OK, although with Kouandjio, Cooper, Kelby Johnson (Virginia) and tight end Sam Collura (Pittsburgh) they should be blowing teams away. It won't help matters if Kouandjio can't suit up after suffering an ankle sprain last week.
The outlook is bleak for DeMatha, but it wouldn't be shocking to see them revert to championship form. After all, this is a Bill McGregor coached team and they are bursting with talent. But so is Good Counsel. The Falcons, led by legendary coach Bob Milloy, are playing like defending champions and seem to be progressing each week. Look for that to continue in front of their home crowd on Friday night.
Prediction: Good Counsel 28, DeMatha 21
No. 11 Flowers (5-0) vs. No. 6 Suitland (5-0)
Saturday, October 9 @ 2 p.m.
The last of the undefeated teams in Prince George's County 4A square off this weekend in Springdale. Flowers, which is coming of a 49-0 demolition of Laurel, brings a stifling defense that's allowing just six points per game. Suitland, meanwhile, stymied an up-and-coming Bowie team, 21-7, and has been dominant in all facets of the game. The Rams are scoring 33 point per game and giving up just four.
While this should be a great game, it may not be as close as the pregame hype suggests. Suitland currently looks like a superior team. They have already defeated one PG power, Wise, in Week 1 before tallying three straight shutouts. Last week they held a Bowie squad averaging 27 points per game to just a touchdown. In turn, they scored 21 points against the Bulldogs' defense, which had yet to allow more than one touchdown in any game this year.
Flowers, on the other hand, hasn't been nearly as dominant as their record indicates. Their defense has been stellar, but their offense has barely been able to move the football against average to good teams. They produced less than 150 yards and just seven first downs against Bowie. Then they had just over 200 yards against a middle-of-the-pack DuVal team. In both games their defense bailed them out late. The Jaguars busted out last week, but winless Laurel is hardly a great measuring stick.
For Flowers to win their offense must build on last week's success. Against Laurel the Jaguars' three-headed monster rushing attack -- Chris Gregory, Montel Ijmah, Daryl Bailey -- turned into a 12-pronged thoroughbred stable. Led by Gregory's 96 yards, Flowers rolled for 318 on the ground.
Meanwhile, quarterback Thomas Lawrence only threw two passes against Laurel; he'll need to find his rhythm for the offense to succeed next week. The offensive line, led by Cal Kilby and Chris Labidou, owned the line of scrimmage last week, but they need to do a better job with fundamentals and limiting mistakes.
The Jaguars have been downright deadly on defense, however. They've given up just two offensive touchdowns in five games and have developed a knack for registering game-changing turnovers. That includes cornerback Craig Thompson's fourth-quarter interception against Bowie, lineman Charles Rivers' game-winning fumble recovery for a touchdown and the four interceptions recorded against DuVal.
On the line, Labidou, Kilby, Rivers and John Smith can't be moved off the ball. Their linebacker corps boats star prospectsAscene Jacques, his younger brother Austin Jacques and a solid veteran in Eric Burton. Meanwhile, Thompson, Cooksey Hunter and Terrell Jackson, who has three interceptions this year, form one of the best secondaries in the state.
But Suitland can match -- and in some places exceed -- Flowers in every area. That's especially true of the Rams' dynamic offense. Junior quarterback Nyema Washington has completed 37 of 61 passes for 687 yards and seven scores against just one interception. He's done that mostly without No. 1 receiver Levern Jacobs, who has a sprained knee. But Jacobs' little brother, Taivon Jacobs, and Lorenzo Steele have stepped up in his stead. Junior Greg Evans and tight end Robert Burke are big targets who can also stretch the field. In the running game, sophomore Anthony Squire and Anthony Norman have combined for just under 500 yards and 13 touchdowns this year.
The key, however, has been the offensive line, which has matured quickly. Terrell Stewart has D-I potential, and Jyron Moody, Anthony Waddy, Leon Ellis and Tim Lee are all performing up to their capabilities.
The Rams' forte is defense, however. They line up in a base 4-3 and pound offenses into submission. Suitland boasts a pair of space-eating tackles (Stewart and Marcus Hill) and two multi-sack underclassmen defensive ends (Shaneil Jenkins and Jamie Wigfall). Senior Antoine Young, the anchor of the defense, lines up at middle linebacker alongside veteran Cornell Mack. The secondary is a potpourri of talent, from corners with 4.4 speed (Steele and Denzil Monroe) to safeties with imposing size (Jones and Brandon Thompson. Simply put, there are no holes in Suitland's defense.
Flowers' defense will keep them in the game, but unless they can continue their streak of creating turnovers, they don't have enough offensive firepower to hang with Suitland. The Rams will find a way to score at least a couple touchdowns in what promises to be a low-scoring defensive struggle.
Prediction: Suitland 19, Flowers 8
Thomas Johnson (3-2) vs. No. 14 Urbana (5-0)
Friday, October 8 @ 7 p.m.
It doesn't get much better for MVAL fans than the TJ-Urbana rivalry. When these two 4A teams get together, there are two things no one can predict: the winner or the point spread. In the last six years these teams have faced each other seven times. Urbana has won on four occasions, TJ on three.
The scores have ranged from the 50s to the 30s to the 20s to low-scoring defensive battles. There have been nail-biters (Urbana, 10-7 in 2009) blowouts (Urbana, 53-12 in 2004) and shutouts (TJ, 21-0 in 2007). Last year they played each other twice. Urbana eked out a 10-7 victory in the first meeting, but in the playoffs, when the Hawks clearly looked like the stronger team, the Patriots won 24-7. Go figure.
Which leads us to 2010. Based purely on personnel and what they've done so far, Urbana should win this game. But if past history has taught us anything, it's that TJ-Urbana is a toss-up. Either way, here's how the two teams break down.
Urbana, the only undefeated team in the 4A North region, is smoking hot. They've scored a total of 206 points and allowed just 19. The Hawks have yet to put up less than 30 points in any contest, and of their five victories four have been shutouts. Perhaps what's most impressive is Urbana's array of contributors. No one player is dominating; rather, it seems a different person steps up each week.
Offensively, the Hawks feature a rugged senior, Wes Garey (over 400 yards), at running back. But their backfield takes a big blow with the loss of D-I prospect Matt Semelsberger, who is out for the year with a broken fibula. Without Semelsberger, Urbana may have to pass even more than they have been. Michael Spahr has been a boon to the offense, throwing for 834 yards and 11 touchdowns. Jude Merkel is pacing the team with a 31-yards per catch average and five touchdowns, while Aaron Bing leads the team with 17 receptions. The offense line, anchored by 300-pounders like Danny Hipkins and Brendan Baker, has been stellar so far this year.
On the other side of the ball, Urbana is filling up the stat sheets with tackles, turnovers and sacks. Edge rushers Colton Kmentz and Merkel have 13 sacks combined, linebackers Mike Lowe, Connor Cunningham and Blake Gatewood all are getting to the football and Bing has three interceptions. The loss of Semelsberger -- the hardest hitter on the team -- at safety, however, really hurts the Hawks in run and pass defense.
Urbana indeed looks good, but here's the catch: The only team they've played so far with a .500 record was Westminster in Week 1 (a 30-0 win). The rest of the teams have been subpar at best. TJ hasn't been great, but they represent Urbana's first real test.
Thomas Johnson is showing sings of youth; they're impressive one week and down the next. Last week was a down week. The Patriots lost 18-13 to Middletown and fumbled 10 times. But before that they played well in victories over Westminster and Century.
Patriots quarterback Brian Chase is the poster child for the Patriots' season. Chase has had several monster games, throwing for almost 300 yards against Century and 200 against North Hagerstown. But he's also had a couple duds (Martinsburg, Middletown). The running game is the same way. At times Richie Anderson, Brandon Burney and Eric Gross and Sean Nelson look like the best foursome in the state, and at others they're merely average. The young offensive line has been riding that same roller coaster. Richard Pearch, VJ Davey, Jeremy Klein and Chris Parmona are big country boys, but they must be more consistent with their blocks. TJ will be helped by the return of veteran tackle Wayne Schultz, who was out last week with an ankle injury.
The Patriots have been much more consistent defensively. Last week they held Middletown's power running back Sam Michels to 32 yards. Ralph Ivascu, Garreth Glewwe and Zack Paetrill bring the pressure up front, while Pearch, Burney and Devin Reed wrap up at linebacker. DeAndre Scott and Jordan Turner are ballhawks in the secondary.
Thomas Johnson has the talent to win any game, but they might be a year away from truly dominating. Urbana, meanwhile, is ready to win now. The outcome is probably still a toss-up, but the Hawks should prevail.
Prediction: Urbana 24, Thomas Johnson 12
Fallston (5-0) vs. No. 18 North Harford (5-0)
Friday, October 9 @ 7 p.m.
The battle for Upper Chesapeake Bay Conference supremacy is on the line. Fallston and North Harford are the only two undefeated teams remaining in the conference and the winner of this match will likely take the crown barring a late-season slip-up.
Fallston is coming off a 46-6 thumping of hapless C. Milton Wright, but they also have two signature victories over the likes of Bel Air and Edgewood. North Harford, meanwhile, just thrashed Bel Air, 42-21, and has already beaten perennial Baltimore power Hereford.
Fallston, which has outscored their five opponents 170-59, is thriving with their spread offense. Third-year starter Grant Kelly might be the most underrated quarterback in Maryland. He's quietly thrown for over 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns. Kelly has spread the ball around to three different receivers who all have 10-plus receptions: Chris Cooper, Ryan Umpleby and a 6-5 mismatch who left the golf course to play football, Justin Goff.
The Cougars' running game has been a pleasant surprise with the emergence of sophomore Mark Badger) (over 450 yards, 8 touchdowns) and the return of speedster Zimmie Nwaigwe (4.5 40-yard dash time), who was injured in the preseason.
Fallston's line is one of the stoutest in the conference. They boast three hulking interior offensive linemen in Darrius Berry, Iily Thompson and D I-AA prospect Daequan Lovick. Tackles Ryan Bonhoff and Caleb Abney are both 6-3 and 250 pounds.
Fallston's defense isn't whipping their opponents, but they're much better than last year's team that gave up a whopping 273 points. This year they're surrendering 12 points per game, and last week they held C. Milton to less than 100 yards and six points.
Up front, Thompson and Lovick control the interior while 6-8 defensive end Connor Davis rushes off the edge. Linebacker Darrius Berry leads the team in tackles and is a sideline-to-sideline defender. Youngster Harrison Stone lines up at middle linebacker, and Rob Randall and Steve Hill are veterans on the outside. Cooper and Mike Beck man the secondary along with Nwaigwe, who is the team's most athletic player.
But Fallston could seriously be exposed this week. North Harford has been by far the most impressive team in Harford County. Their triple-option attack has been giving teams problems all season. In fact, the Hawks are the top scoring team in the area with 207 points. Running back Brandon Bayer, a potential scholarship player, is up to 467 yards and five touchdowns. Ben Kenley isn't far behind with 399 yards and Josh Welsh is a weapon averaging 12 yards per carry. Not to mention quarterback Cody Turner, who has 386 rushing yards to go along with 342 passing yards.
Blocking up front are five veterans with the size to maul and the feet to pull out in space: Brandon Wooten, Vincent Culotta, Chad Short, Trevor Atkinson and Justin Hedrick.
The offense is impressive, but the Hawks' defense hasn't allowed more than a touchdown since Week 1 against Hereford. Wooten and Culotta double as defensive linemen and line up alongside Jake Harris and the aptly named Jon Hammer to form perhaps the best defensive front in the conference. Linebacker Marc Anderson leads the team in tackles with 37, and Sean Cannon is dependable in the middle. But the Hawks do have to replace outside linebacker Frankie Harris, who is out for the year with a herniated disc. In the secondary, Nate Brockmeyer (three interceptions), Nick Warren and Bayer are mainstays, while Turner is working in a rotation with Jalen Shaw.
North Harford is deep, talented and set to make a run in the postseason. Fallston has been solid, but they don't have the guns to match up with the Hawks.
Prediction: North Harford 28, Fallston 14