BEL AIR - Oakland Mills saw its football season slip away Friday night at C.M. Wright High School amid dense fog and a slew of mistakes and missed opportunities.
Wright running back Ken Batten made the Scorpions pay, when he bounced off two Oakland Mills tacklers, then completed a 6-yard run in overtime to lift the Mustangs to a 13-7 Class 3A state semifinal victory.
The victory sends undefeated Wright (12-0) to next weekend's 3A state title game against the winner of the Northern (Calvert County)-McDonogh (Charles County) semifinal. The Scorpions, who have never won a state championship and were trying to advance to the finals for the first time in eight years, ended with a 10-2 record.
It was an evening marked by thick fog and blown chances by the Scorpions, who rallied from a sluggish first-half start to tie the Mustangs at 7-7 early in the fourth quarter, then failed to convert a 35-yard field goal in the final minute of regulation before coming up short in an agonizing overtime sequence.
Overtime rules stipulate that each team gets four chances to score from the opponents' 10-yard line. The first team to score, then prevent its opponent from scoring is the winner.
The Scorpions won the pre-overtime coin toss and took over on offense, then failed to reach the end zone on five chances. After a pass interference penalty against Wright put the ball on the 5, tailback Derrick Brooks lost a yard. Quarterback Joe Coughlan then hit wideout Gregg Washington for what appeared to be a touchdown pass, but the play was nullified by an illegal motion penalty.
Then, after another pass interference call against the Mustangs moved the ball to the 6, Coughlan's next pass was batted at the line of scrimmage, before falling into the hands of defensive lineman Mike Whitehead for an interception. That gave the Mustangs the ball at the 10.
Two plays later, Batten (12 carries, 51 yards) bulled his way over three Oakland Mills tacklers on his way to the end zone.
"I thought we had the game won. We had an easy play down there (in overtime)," said Oakland Mills coach Ken Hovet, referring to Washington's wide-open reception that was called back.
"But we missed a field goal, we fumbled away a big punt, and we had too many damn penalties," Hovet added. "Mistakes killed us."
The Scorpions made plenty of them. They drew seven penalties which cost them 97 yards, and committed four turnovers. And the mistakes kept biting them at the worst times.
Coughlan, who teamed with Washington for eight completions and 95 yards to highlight the Scorpions offense, made the first error on Oakland Mills' second possession. He picked up 15 yards on a well-disguised naked bootleg but lost the ball at the Mustangs 30. Wright recovered the fumbled, killing the Scorpions' first promising drive.
The Mustangs then opened the scoring five minutes into the second period, when halfback Chris Gill turned an inside reverse play into a 42-yard touchdown. Mike Wiechert's extra point gave the Mustangs a 7-0 lead.
After turning the ball over on downs on their next possession, Oakland Mills got the ball back at midfield with 2:46 left in the first half. On first down, Coughlan hit Kenya Edwards on a crossing pattern that turned into a 36-yard gain. However, the play was called back by an illegal motion penalty. That drive stalled.
The Scorpions began to click in the second half. The Mustangs, instead of punting to keep Oakland Mills pinned back in their own territory, decided to go for a first down on fourth-and-11 at the Scorpions' 37.
Oakland Mills sacked quarterback Jeff Hawk for a 13-yard loss, giving the Scorpions the ball at midfield with 3:55 left in the third period.
The Scorpions, sensing a momentum shift, then drove 50 yards in 11 plays. Coughlan's 24-yard completion to Washington on third-and-15 was the drive's big play, which put Oakland Mills in a first-and-goal situation at the Wright 8. Three plays later, Ricky Gray scored from the 3, and with 11:16 left in the game, Ty Wilkins' extra point tied the game at 7-7.
Oakland Mills stopped Wright cold on its next two possessions, but the Mustangs received a big break from the Scorpions with 5:35 left when Brian Dunbar fumbled a Wright punt near midfield. Wright recovered, and although the Mustangs turned the ball over on downs four plays later, the next Mustangs punt put Oakland Mills on its own 20 with 5:05 to go.
The Scorpions responded by driving 62 yards -- with Coughlan and Washington connecting twice for 31 -- to the Mustangs' 18.
On fourth down and with 50 seconds left in regulation, Wilkins' 35-yard field goal attempt was blocked.
The Scorpions had made another mistake. The Mustangs had dodged another bullet.
"They (Oakland Mills) had the momentum for the last half of the third quarter and most of the fourth," said Wright coach Steve Harward. "We were in the hot seat for quite some time. They had the game."