Now that the big guys have completed their nine-week warm-up for The Game, it's finally time to get it on.
Saturday's 1:30 p.m. clash at Oakland Mills between the 9-0 Scorpions and 9-0 Wilde Lake promises many things, the most certain of which pertains to history. It marks the 12th consecutive time these two have butted helmets on the regular season's final day, and the 10th time during that stretch a county title has ridden on the outcome.
And, temporarily at least, that piece of the rivalry will end. The county schedule will undergo some random, computerized changes next year, meaning the Wilde Lake-Oakland Mills game will take place on another unknown fall weekend.
Although Oakland Mills and Wilde Lake will continue to highlight each season with the best matchup the county has to offer, the rivalry will lose that unique, season-long buildup that's marked it since 1979. In that light, it seems more fitting that Wilde Lake and Oakland Mills are preparing for their most attractive contest since their first season-ender 11 years ago. That was the last time they brought 9-0 records into the finale.
All the variables appear to be meshing for a great game. The weather should be fall-like, with temperatures in the 50s at kickoff. A crowd of at least 4,000 is expected. Both teams are healthy. And regardless of the outcome, each team is headed for the state playoffs.
Looking at the big picture, The Game actually doesn't mean too much. But don't tell that to the players or the coaches. They've been eyeing The Game and the bragging rights it produces since Aug. 15, the first day of practice.
"Wouldn't you like to be a kid playing in this game?" asks Scorpions coach Ken Hovet, who speaks from experience. Hovet graduated from Oakland Mills 11 years ago, and played on the 1979 team that beat the Jim Traber-led Wildecats 22-14 to win the league title.
"This game is like a neighborhood battle," Hovet adds. "This game is for when you go to the mall wearing your team jacket and see a kid from the other school. This decides which one has to turn around and walk the other way."
With that, let's dabble in a little pre-game hype.
The Game looks like a coin flip on paper. Speed vs. speed. Power vs.
power. Finesse vs. finesse. Each offenses can carve up an opponent with ball control or big plays. Each defense flies to the ball like magnets and enjoys drilling people.
We all know statistics can deceive, but these two have produced statistical mirrors through nine games. The similarities are eerie.
Wilde Lake has outscored its opponents 340-31, averaging 38 points and 369 yards of offense -- 297 rushing, 72 passing. Oakland Mills has outscored its victims 306-52, averaging 34 points and 375 yards offense -- 299 rushing, 76 passing.
The Wildecats have surrendered a paltry 3.4 points and 109 yards a game -- 66 rushing, 43 passing and have yet to allow a rushing touchdown. The Scorpions have given up 5.7 points and 107 yards a game -- 48 rushing, 59 passing and have allowed one rushing touchdown.
As far as matchups are concerned, The Game finally puts Oakland Mills' Korey Singleton and Wilde Lake's Raphael Wall -- the Baltimore metropolitan area's top two rushers and arguably its top two players -- on the same stage. These two bring The Game its true showcase quality.
Singleton, a bruising 6-foot-1, 205-pounder with great speed, already owns the county record for rushing yardage in a single season with 1,817.
He's scored 23 touchdowns and has averaged 8.1 yards per carry. Wall, a 6-1, 195-pound slashing type who changes directions better and accelerates faster than any high school back I've ever seen, has rushed for 1,504 yards and 24 TDs, while averaging 11 yards per carry.
Wall's backfield mate Damon Hamlin has hurt defenses all year. He's rushed for 731 yards on 78 carries (a 9.4 average). He also leads the team in broken tackles.
Wilde Lake quarterback Phil White may be the best-kept secret in the metro area, let alone the county. That might change this week. This 6-3, 205-pound junior throws the ball better than most high school quarterbacks you'll see. In seven games he's completed 23 of 39 passes (59 percent) for 631 yards (27.4 per completion), nine touchdowns and one interception.
White's favorite target is senior wideout Oba McMillan, a sinewy, sneaky-quick receiver with great hands and a penchant for making his catches count. Seven of his 10 receptions have gone for scores. He's averaging 34 yards per catch.
Oakland Mills also has options. Eric Graham, a tailback/flanker who can fly, has rushed for 639 yards on 74 carries (8.6) and five touchdowns.