With just three weeks left in the football season, C. Milton Wright stands on the brink of winning its first ever county championship.
Going into last Friday night's game at Bel Air, the Mustangs (6-0 overall, 4-0 league) sat all alone on top of the county standings.
Previously undefeated Joppatowne dropped into third place behind Aberdeen (5-1, 4-1) after a 33-0 loss to the Eagles on Oct. 12.
Those three appear to be the only teams left in the county title race.
Joppatowne (5-1, 3-1) will have the toughest battle with C. Milton Wright, ranked No. 10 by The Sun, and Edgewood (4-2, 3-2) still left on its schedule.
The Mustangs have already defeated both of last year's county co-champs, Aberdeen and Edgewood. Those wins came by a combined total of two points.
In the second game of the season, they edged No. 11 Aberdeen, 14-13.
Last week, the Mustangs squeaked past No. 16 Edgewood, 7-6.
Those wins put the Mustangs in a strong position to hold onto their lead in the county. In the remaining weeks, the Mustangs face Bel Air, John Carroll and Fallston; each have a 1-3 record in county play.
Although C. Milton Wright had been ranked as high as second in the county in offense, their defense brought them through the close games.
Among their big plays against Edgewood, the Mustangs blocked a punt, intercepted a pass and smothered the opposing quarterback on a two-point conversion attempt.
Zi Shum and Chris Shue were the latest defensive stars. The 5-foot-6 Shum, a junior defensive end, blocked the punt that set up Kenny Batten's game-winning touchdown. Shue, a junior linebacker, led the team with 10 tackles.
"This is probably the best defense we've ever had," said Mustangs coach Steve Harward. "It's been the difference in our season. Most people in the county thought we would be lucky to break even and here we are on top."
Still, the Mustangs won't be ready to celebrate until the final whistle of the regular season. They know the county's underdogs have a habit of knocking off the top teams.
Still fresh in the Mustangs' minds is last year's upset at the hands of Bel Air. The Bobcats took the Mustangs out of the running for the county title with a 14-7 victory.
Harward isn't counting out the rest of his opponents either. Beating C.
Milton Wright could salvage the season for any one of them.
"Records don't mean anything with these cross-town rivalries," explained the fifth-year coach. "It's like Michigan and Michigan State around here almost every week. The big rivalries between these schools mean anything can happen."
If Bel Air can't pull the upset, Joppatowne is waiting in the wings to play host to the Mustangs on Nov. 2. Mariners' coach Karlis Larson is counting on at least one upset to keep his team in the hunt.
"We're still playing for a piece of the county title," said Larson, whose team has the toughest season-ending schedule of the top three contenders. "I told the team we have to win the rest of our games, but Bel Air could play a big role in this."
The Mariners had been cruising along until they ran into Aberdeen on Oct. 12. Coming into the game, Joppatowne boasted the best defense in the county, but Aberdeen took it apart.
The Eagles scored every touchdown on the ground including a 69-yard run by Demont Blackmon and a 51-yarder by Joe Gordon. Both Blackmon and Gordon gained over 100 yards.
"Our defense played well very early in the game, but then they started sweeping us to death," explained Larson. "In the second half, they used the sweep to blow us off the map."
Upcoming games this Friday will send John Carroll to C. Milton Wright, Fallston to North Harford, Bel Air to Edgewood and Joppatowne to Havre de Grace on Friday night at 7. Aberdeen heads to Charles County for a game against McDonough Saturday afternoon at 1:30.