An excerpt from The Sun's prep football preview in September read: ". . . the loss of the area's leading rusher, Brian Fordyce [1,705 yards], to graduation has depleted [C. Milton Wright's] offense."
Not only had C. Milton Wright lost its top running back, but the team also lacked experience -- with only five seniors starting.
It is easy to see why most coaches in Harford County thought that defending co-county champions Aberdeen and Edgewood -- not C. Milton Wright -- would be the favorites to win the county title. Aberdeen and Edgewood both were ranked in The Sun's preseason top 20, but C. Milton Wright was not.
Even C. Milton Wright coach Steve Harward said he "had no other expectations other than just being competitive."
But the Mustangs have been more than just competitive, finishing the regular season undefeated (10-0) for the first time in school history and ranked fifth. They earned their first Class 3A, Region III title and the Harford County League title.
C. Milton Wright will play host to Dundalk in a state Class 3A quarterfinal tonight at 7:30.
"It's a surprise to me and everyone else that we have been as successful as we have," said Harward, in his fifth year at C. Milton Wright. "To say the least, it's a tribute to the kids to come so far so fast. They have really meshed well together. No one person carries the load on offense or defense. Maybe that's the secret. It's so hard to explain when you go undefeated against good competition with a young football team."
Harward did offer several explanations, however.
"Since Day One, we said our strength was the offensive line, and they have lived up to that billing," he said, referring to players Ron Harris, Daryl Smith, Corey Lambroff, Jason Joines and Chad Bosley. Kenny Batten has been the main beneficiary of the line, rushing for 1,081 yards and scoring 15 touchdowns.
Harward also credited his team's chemistry and work ethic.
"They all like football and being around each other," he said. "They're just a group that has really worked hard. They keep getting better and better every week. That's a motto we have. We feel there are two types of football teams: ones that get better and ones that get worse."
C. Milton Wright's defense, led by senior linebacker Israel Sostrin (78 solo tackles, 66 assists), also has been getting better. It has not been scored upon in its latest 16 quarters and has allowed only six points in its latest six games. For the season, the Mustangs' defense has recorded six shutouts and allowed just 31 points.
And, as Harward said, it doesn't hurt to have a little luck on your side.
Luck contributed to the Mustangs' two biggest victories this season -- one-point wins over Aberdeen and Edgewood -- although C. Milton Wright won those games by making the big plays.
"Beating the two powers in Harford County was a great accomplishment for our program," Harward said. "Both were one-point wins, but we surely won legitimately."
Aberdeen, ranked eighth at the time, had pulled within one, 14-13, on a touchdown with 3 minutes, 5 seconds remaining in the Sept. 14 game against then-unranked C. Milton Wright.
But an Aberdeen player was called for taunting a C. Milton Wright defender, and the penalty was assessed on the conversion, putting the ball at the 18-yard line. A conversion pass to win the game fell short, and C. Milton Wright ran out the clock.
In the Mustangs' 7-6 victory over Edgewood on Oct. 12, their first win over the Rams in their 11-year history, the game wasn't decided until the final 1:25 when C. Milton Wright's Chris Shue led a blitz that resulted in a sack of Edgewood quarterback Keith Kimmel as he tried for the game-winning conversion pass.
C. Milton Wright's touchdown had been set up by a blocked punt, and earlier in the fourth quarter, Edgewood's Lawrence Worthington returned a punt 35 yards, got into the open field and tripped.
"Coaches always say the same thing: 'It's better to be lucky than good,' " Harward said. "And we've had a lot of luck so far."