For the first time since 1978, three area schools will play for state championships in three different classifications.
Why have the three made it to the finals this year?
Attribute it to skill, parity and a bit of luck.
Tonight at 7:30, C. Milton Wright will meet McDonough in the Class 3A championship game at Friendly, and Wilde Lake and Damascus play for the Class 2A title at South Carroll. Top-ranked Randallstown will meet Wootton for the Class 4A championship at Westminster tomorrow at 2 p.m.
In 1978, Annapolis and Havre de Grace won the Class AA (now 4A) and Class C (1A) titles, respectively, and Franklin lost to Friendly in the Class B (2A) championship game.
But area teams have not fared well in the state playoffs in recent years. The only one to reach the state finals in the past two years was Overlea, which lost to DuVal in the Class 3A championship game in 1988. Milford Mill -- then under current Randallstown coach John Buchheister -- was the last area team to win a state title, defeating Havre de Grace for the Class C crown in 1987.
Wilde Lake's appearance in the state finals is not surprising, but Randallstown was considered a long shot by some and C. Milton Wright was given no shot.
With a solid group of seniors returning -- including running back Larry Washington (2,022 yards and 31 touchdowns) -- Randallstown had the talent to be ranked second in The Sun's preseason poll.
But the Rams (12-0), who won the Class AA state title in 1984, were not expected to win a state title this year. After all, the past five Class 4A state championship games had been contested between schools from Montgomery County.
"I knew we had some good talent here, but I didn't have the slightest idea how we'd do this year," Buchheister said.
Said Severna Park coach Andy Borland, in his 28th season as a coach: "I think football over the state is starting to equalize. I think Montgomery County may be down some this year, but Randallstown is one heck of a team."
Said Bob Milloy, coach of two-time defending Class 4A champion Springbrook of Montgomery County: "I don't think Montgomery County was very strong this year, but our team and Seneca Valley were pretty strong. Randallstown scored five touchdowns Seneca Valley [in the state quarterfinals], and that is quite a feat."
Randallstown's appearance in the state finals surprises some, but C. Milton Wright's appearance surprises almost everyone -- even coach Steve Harward.
C. Milton Wright has had its best season in its 11-year history despite losing last year's leading rusher in the area -- Brian Fordyce -- to graduation and having just five seniors starting.
"The kids are really a group of over-achievers," Harward said. "They're not real big, not real quick, but they have a good work ethic and team chemistry."
The Mustangs have done whatever is necessary to win. Included in their 12-0 record are one-point victories over Aberdeen and Edgewood and a 13-7 overtime triumph over Oakland Mills in the state semifinals last week.
In the victory over Oakland Mills, the Mustangs blocked a field goal with 19 seconds remaining in regulation, then prevented the Scorpions from scoring in overtime (in high school overtimes, each team is given four downs to score from the opponents' 10-yard line).
"It's been a magical year," Harward said. "I'm asking myself, 'Do we have enough for one more game?' "
Wilde Lake (12-0) has done more than enough to win this season. Before last week's 14-12 semifinal victory over Douglass of Prince George's County, the Wildecats had won by an average margin of 33 points.
The Wildecats have made it to the state finals behind the running of Raphael Wall (1,773 yards, 29 touchdowns) and tough defense (49 points allowed in 12 games).
On the rare occasions when Wall was slowed by opposing
teams, Wilde Lake's defense took over. Wall rushed for 42 yards against Douglass last week and he also gained 42 against Oakland Mills during the regular season, but the Wildecats' defense held the Scorpions scoreless.
The Wildecats have qualified for the state playoffs five of the the past six years, but this is their first appearance in the state finals since winning the Class B state crown in 1985.
"The 2A is very competitive," Wilde Lake coach Doug DuVall said. "There are about 16 teams in the 2A this year that are capable of winning the championship."