A 2-0 start is a refreshing change for the Arundel football team and its veteran coach, Buddy Hepfer. If only reality would stop intruding.
"We could still end up being 2-8," Hepfer said Tuesday afternoon, relaxing in his office shortly before the start of a 3 p.m. practice session.
"You may say we're getting off to a great start, but that ball bounces funny. I've been in this game too long. Sometimes, you've got to have more luck than just a good team."
At the present, it appears Hepfer has both. And the early results are favorable.
Victories over Bowie (14-13) and Thomas Johnson (13-9) have the Wildcats brimming with confidence heading into tonight's 7:30 game at Annapolis. But their 14-year coach, while mildly encouraged, remains cautious.
"What I said to the kids (Monday) was, 'You've won two ballgames, which proves what?' " he said. "What you've got to do is be competitive with the big boys. If you can play with the big boys, then you've got a chance to do something. If you can't go out there and play with them, then that means we're no better than we were the last couple of years."
At least Arundel didn't open the season with a loss to Bowie, an occurance the past three years that led to records of .500 or below.
The Wildcats haven't enjoyed a winning season since 1985, when they went 9-2 and made their fourth appearance in the state playoffs under Hepfer. Arundel lost to Seneca Valley, 15-14, in the opening round when a 46-yard field-goal attempt with 16 seconds remaining fell short.
The following year, Arundel lost eight of 10 games and has sputtered ever since, making this fall's early achievements even more significant.
"When you've had losing seasons, and then your team loses the first two ballgames, it's hard to tell them, 'Hey, you're going to win the next ballgame,' because they've got that doubt in their minds. A win gives them confidence that they can play with the big teams," Hepfer said.
But can the Wildcats really play with the "big teams?" Are wins over Bowie and Thomas Johnson an accurate gauge of their ability?
Senior running back Rodney Stevens isn't sure, but he's anxious to find out.
"This is a big game for us," he said Tuesday. "A lot of people have been telling us that they didn't think Thomas Johnson and Bowie were that good. So this week will be our real test. We're just going to do our best."
They must do their best in order to defeat an Annapolis team fighting to stay in the playoff picture after opening defeats to Friendly and Randallstown.
"You can try to tell kids that, but how are you going to impress on them it's a must game for Annapolis?" Hepfer asked. "This is the one they've got to win to put them over the hump. They've got more to lose than we do. If we lose, we're 2-1. All we have to do is pick the pieces back up and get back on the winning trail. That's why we have to be up as high as they are, if not higher.
"If we can't do it, we'll get beat."
Count Stevens among the Wildcats not judging their opponent by its record.
"Annapolis is Annapolis," he said. "If you beat them, it's a big plus for you. That's how we look at it, whether they're 0-2 or 2-0. It's the same with every team. They're coming out to beat you."
Especially the Panthers, who haven't lost to Arundel since 1985, and can ill afford to do so tonight.
Of course, Annapolis coach Roy Brown would rather suit up himself than call the game a "must-win."
"Everyone seems concerned about the playoffs, but our first goal is to win the county championship," he said yesterday morning. "It's a big game because it's the first league game and Arundel is 2-0, but it's not critical.
"As far as the playoffs go, they're out of our hands, anyway. If we win all our games the rest of the way, or only lose one, the playoffs will take care of themselves. We can't be concerned with the playoffs right now."
He can, however, be concerned about the Wildcats.
"This is probably the best team I've seen Arundel have in five years," Brown said. "They're really playing well now. They have great team speed, all their backs are quick, the defense really pursues. It's going to be a tough game."
Only if Arundel avoids repeating what Hepfer considered a lackluster effort against Thomas Johnson last Friday.
"We didn't play very well last week and we lucked out and won," he said. "They just weren't ready to play. I think they thought they had an easy game and they found out they didn't.
"They play like that (tonight) and Annapolis will blow us out."
Copyright The Baltimore Sun 1990