The game revealed the usual sloppiness that plagues many high school football teams on opening day, but Oakland Mills raised more eyebrows for good reasons Saturday.
For starters, the Scorpions traveled to Calvert Hall in Baltimore County to play the highly touted Cardinals for the first time in Oakland Mills history. And what did the Scorpions do in the face of Calvert Hall's boisterous home crowd, its huge, well-dressed band, its proud Maryland Scholastic Association winning tradition and its preseason top 10 metropolitan Baltimore ranking?
The Scorpions scoffed at all of the above while drilling Calvert Hall in a surprisingly easy 21-0 victory.
Oakland Mills came to Calvert Hall bent on achieving several goals Saturday.
The Scorpions especially wanted to wipe out the memory of last season's miserable 0-3 start, which knocked them out of the playoff picture before the county schedule had begun.
They also hoped to send an early message to rival Wilde Lake that the Wildecats would find at least one roadblock lying in their path to another county title. And with the county's toughest non-league schedule awaiting them -- defending state 3A champion Linganore is up this week, followed by perennial Anne Arundel County power South River -- Oakland Mills prepared for the Calvert Hall game with a playoff-like fervor.
"We approached this like a huge game," said Scorpions coach Ken Hovet.
"Honestly, I thought if we had lost this one, we would've lost the next one to Linganore. We didn't want to start out on a negative note like last year."
The day wasn't totally rewarding, as Hovet sweated out a few negative moments. Like the 10 Oakland Mills penalties that cost the Scorpions 105 yards. Or the third-period doldrums that temporarily overtook the Scorpions, who led, 14-0, and nearly ushered Calvert Hall back into the game when the Cardinals, thanks mainly to three penalties, crept inside the Oakland Mills 10-yard line. Or the foot injury to quarterback Joe Coughlan, who threw a 37-yard touchdown pass to Greg Washington but otherwise struggled, completing three of 10 passes for 40 yards.
What was so encouraging about Oakland Mills' performance is despite such glaring shortcomings, the Scorpions left no doubt about who was in control.
From the moment Calvin Claggs and Robbie Bundy sacked Calvert Hall quarterback Brian Healy for a 13-yard loss to ruin the Cardinals' opening drive, Oakland Mills' defense went into a state of denial. After that drive, Calvert Hall picked up only six first downs, four of those by penalty.
Oakland Mills surrendered just 121 yards of offense, while the Scorpions spread the damage around nicely.
Kelly Sykes had an excellent first half on the defensive line, collecting six solo tackles, two assists and a sack before a leg cramp forced him out of action early in the third quarter. But Oakland Mills didn't miss a beat, as Bundy (two solo tackles, four assists, two sacks), Claggs (five assists, one sack) and Justin Wethington (five solos, four assists, one sack) sealed off the line. Meanwhile, Korey Singleton (four solos, one interception) and Ricky Gray (two solos) took care of the backfield.
After Singleton (13 carries for 63 yards) softened up the Calvert Hall defense for much of the first quarter, Coughlan found Washington on a post pattern to give the Scorpions a 7-0 lead with 1:25 left.
The rest of the day pretty much belonged to tailback Eric Graham, a tall, slender 6-foot-3-inch senior who turned in a varsity debut to remember.
Graham, known more for his track prowess -- as a freshman, he was part of the Scorpions' state-championship 4x200-meter relay team and has been timed in 10.9 seconds in the 100-meter -- -- came back to football after missing last season due to academic ineligibility. He had also missed considerable preseason action with injuries to both quadriceps muscles. He essentially walked onto the field Saturday untested.
In the second period, the Scorpions unveiled Graham, whom assistant coach Dan Ricker had jokingly referred to as "our secret weapon."
Graham's first play was an exciting 38-yard punt return in which he knifed through half the Calvert Hall defense while sprinting from sideline to sideline. Liking what he saw, Hovet decided to insert Graham in the backfield and give him the ball some more.
All Graham did was change the game. His 10-yard burst on a right sweep extended Oakland Mills' lead to 14-0 shortly before halftime. Then, with 3:30 to go in the third period, he took a pitchout, cut up the right sideline and blew past four Cardinal defenders en route to an 85-yard touchdown that quieted the Calvert Hall fans for the rest of the afternoon.
And Graham, who rushed for 108 yards on 12 carries, was a secret no more.
"I watched that (the 85-yard run) about 15 times on film. There are three or four guys who have good angles on him and he just outran them," Hovet said. "My main concern was how he was going to react when he got hit.
He didn't play in either scrimmage. Well, he answered any questions I had.
He's going to get the ball 25 times against Linganore, I guarantee you."
Ah, Linganore. Hovet and the Scorpions remember them well. The Frederick County powerhouse dealt Oakland Mills a 32-6 drubbing in last season's second week, the worst defeat in Oakland Mills history. Linganore used it as a springboard to a 13-1 season and a state championship. The Scorpions never recovered.
Saturday, the Scorpions will play host to the rematch and are looking for the same type of catapult to a season that will far surpass last year's disappointing 5-5 finish.
No matter how the season ends, the Scorpions, looking back at the Calvert Hall results, couldn't ask for a better beginning.