Oakland Mills High School's football team discovered two things about itself Saturday.
First, if they had any doubts about its effect, the Scorpions know now that the season-ending knee injury to Korey Singleton was a huge blow.
Second, the Scorpions proved that even without Singleton they still have enough resources to beat a tough opponent in a do-or-die game.
During their wild 27-26 quarterfinal playoff victory over Laurel -- which puts the Scorpions in Friday night's 3A semifinal at C. Milton Wright, Harford County -- one could almost sense the Scorpions looking over their shoulders for guidance from Singleton, who is out with a torn knee ligament.
The Scorpions, playing for the first time without Singleton, seemed to be groping in the beginning, as if they were hoping someone else would step forward with the kind of inspired play he had provided routinely for 10 weeks. Witness their early 12-0 hole.
But by the end, after Oakland Mills (10-1) had exploded for 21 second-quarter points and Laurel had come up just short in a furious comeback attempt, the Scorpions had found some new heroes.
Players like 5-foot-5 sophomore tailback Derrick Brooks, Singleton's replacement, who shook off a rough day against Wilde Lake (22 carries, 11 yards) to rush for 133 yards and three touchdowns on 22 carries.
Or Quinn Smith, whose devastating block sprang Brooks on a 67-yard third-quarter touchdown run that proved to be the game-winner. Smith then sacked Laurel quarterback Greg Ford twice in the fourth quarter.
Or Gregg Washington, a 6-4 wideout/defensive back who did great things on both sides of the ball. His acrobatic catch of a Joe Coughlan pass in the corner of the end zone gave the Scorpions a 21-12 halftime cushion, and his interception of Ford in the Scorpions' end zone with 15 seconds to go preserved the victory.
Then there's Coughlan, who before striking pay dirt with Washington in the second quarter, hit him with a 13-yard completion on fourth down to keep the Scorpions' first scoring drive alive. Or 6-2, 260-pound, two-way lineman Robbie Bundy, who set up the go-ahead score with a fumble he forced and recovered in the middle of the second quarter.
"With Korey out, we had to get some other people to raise their game a little more," Oakland Mills coach Ken Hovet said.
But even with Singleton and his 1,817 rushing yards missing, the most glaring Scorpions weakness was the unusually soft defense. There, the team dearly missed Singleton, who is also the top defensive player, with a team-leading 38 solo tackles, 48 assists.
Laurel, behind halfback Erick Thomas (15 carries, 124 yards, 2 TDs), ran the ball at will for three quarters. Thomas' 24-yard run opened the scoring in the first quarter, and in the second half he led a Spartans offense that put together two impressive long drives and nearly pulled the game out.
One drive ended in a 24-yard touchdown pass from Ford to William Griffin. The other ended with Washington and Ricky Gray making big plays to stop Laurel inside the Scorpions 20. In between the two, Thomas broke several tackles with a beautiful 40-yard scoring run.
In all, Laurel piled up 217 yards, including 135 rushing -- both by far the most the Scorpions have surrendered this season. Oakland Mills gained 218 total yards.
"Offensively we played a lot better than last week (an 18-0 loss to Wilde Lake). Our offensive line did a nice job, and Derrick ran well," Hovet said. "But you could tell today we didn't have Korey out there defensively. We didn't have any (tackling) finishers."
The Scorpions didn't start well, thanks to the same special teams that put them behind early against Wilde Lake 10 days ago.
Laurel's Gary Joseph returned a punt 95 yards to open the scoring two minutes into the game. Then, after Oakland Mills covered the ensuing kickoff poorly and punted from deep in their own territory, Laurel (8-3) took over on the Scorpions 41. Six plays later, Thomas --ed 24 yards for a 12-0 lead.
Brooks lighted Oakland Mills' 21-point fuse early in the period with a 9-yard touchdown run behind Bundy's lead block. Six minutes later Bundy, this time playing defensive tackle, ignited Oakland Mills again with perhaps the biggest play of the day.
Bundy hit Joseph as he received a handoff from Ford, then fell on the fumble. On the next play, Brooks spun away from two tacklers before scoring his second touchdown from 14 yards out. Ty Wilkins' second extra point gave Oakland Mills a 14-12 lead with 5:01 left in the half.
The Scorpions' defense quickly forced another Laurel punt, and after Brooks ran 20 yards to the Laurel 18, Coughlan and Washington hooked up for a 9-yard completion. Four plays later, with 19 seconds left in the half, Washington leaped high in the corner of the end zone to come down with an 8-yard reception.
The Scorpions exited the field seemingly in control with a 21-12 lead.
During that second-quarter awakening, Oakland Mills scored on three of four possessions, while Laurel managed minus 15 yards of net offense.