Their quarterback is built like a pulling guard. They have only one starting lineman over 200 pounds. And, until Saturday's 26-8 win over Northern of Garrett County, Class 1A Owings Mills (9-2) had never won a state playoff game. Now the Eagles are one of five area teams to reach the MPSSAA semifinals, and perhaps the most surprising.
"The offense started out way ahead of the defense this year," said seventh-year coach Ray Groszkowski. "We couldn't figure it out. But we had shutouts in three of our last four" regular-season games.
Junior Marlin Matthews, a 5-foot-11, 175-pound running back with 4.6 speed for 40 yards, gained 162 yards on 20 carries against Northern to boost his yearly totals to 1,418 yards on 147 carries with 19 touchdowns. The school's first 1,000-yard rusher, Matthews has benefited from that undersized line led by 220-pound senior captain Damond Thorington. The rest of the line ranges from 160 to 190 pounds.
Another captain, senior quarterback and safety Eric Rumenap, "is a big reason" for the Eagles' success, said Groszkowski. "He's 5-8, if he's lucky, and 190 pounds. He doesn't have great speed or a great arm. But just this year his leadership took over. That accounts for more than his ability."
The other senior captains, Scott Boze and Marcus Gray, are both receivers and defensive backs. With four captains on a 20-man squad, there is no lack of leadership. "I think they're more knowledgeable than any of the teams we've had," Groszkowski said.
They will need to be against defending champion Kent Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Catonsville Community College. "They're very big," Groszkowski said. "We've got to find a way to stop them before they get through the line . . . Offensively, there's no way we're going to be able to move them. We'll have to get angles and go to the outside. We're going to have to pass [and] use our speed to get at 'em."
In the other semifinals:
Fourth-ranked Wilde Lake (11-0) hosts Douglass in a battle of wishbone offenses Saturday at 1 p.m. "They're very similar to us on offense," said Wildecats coach Doug DuVall. ". . . That's one of the big pluses. Since you run it yourself, you see how other teams defense you and see what works. Now our defense will get to try it.
"They have good speed on the outside," DuVall said. "They have real good running backs, a good wide receiver, and a real quick quarterback." So does Wilde Lake, with Raphael Wall and Damon Hamilin running, Oba McMillan catching and Phil White running the 'bone.
Sixth-ranked Oakland Mills (10-1) visits fifth-ranked C. Milton Wright (11-0) Friday night at 7:30. Scorpions coach Ken Hovet has lost running backs Korey Singleton and Eric Graham (and their combined 2,500 yards) for the season with injuries. "[Wright] has a kid, Israel Sostrin, who's impressive," said Hovet. "He runs real hard.
"It might be a higher scoring game than people expect," Hovet continued. "They have a lot of size. Darryl Smith [6-1, 270 pounds] is the anchor of their line and looks real tough. We may have to throw more."
Which wouldn't surprise C.M. Wright coach Steve Harward. "I would expect them to come out throwing the football," he said. "Defensively, they're very quick and pursue very well. It's probably the best defense I've seen all year."
On the strength of Larry Washington's five touchdowns against Seneca Valley, top-ranked Randallstown (11-0) will travel to Oxon Hill Saturday for a 1 p.m. game. "They're a pretty big, physical team," said Rams coach John Buchheister after seeing Oxon Hill beat High Point, 27-0. "They didn't seem to throw the ball a lot. They're probably a little bigger than we are."
Seniors Washington and two-way linemen Brad Topchik and Wallace Baker, tri-captains, have led the Rams this year. "Their leadership is not rah-rah or scream-and-holler," Buchheister said. "They let their performances speak for them. They've learned to be leaders as the season has evolved."
Oxon Hill has a reputation for intimidation and trash-talking, but that doesn't concern Buchheister. "The object of football is not to annihilate the other team, but to move the ball up and down the field."