Before last night's season opener against host South Carroll, Wilde Lake coach Doug DuVall used military terms to describe the difference between this year's team and last year's Class 2A state champions.
"Last year we were like an armored division," said DuVall, whose run-oriented team went 13-0 and won the Class 2A state title. "We'd pound and pound and pound. But this year's team is like a light infantry division. We just run and shoot."
In last night's 20-12 win, the Wildecats' big guns, though off-target early, eventually hit the bull's eye. And they did it, in large part, without their top running back.
After starting running back Damon Hamlin came out of the game with a sprained right ankle early in the second quarter, quarterback Phil White picked up the slack, making the most of his team's new run-and-shoot offense by rushing 11 times for 80 yards and one touchdown.
"Hamlin was a major loss," said DuVall, who said he expects his starter to return next week. "He's one of our most powerful weapons."
Said White: "I started to run more when he got knocked out."
Meanwhile, South Carroll used its passing attack to move the ball well on offense, but had its drives cut short by tight Wilde Lake defense, including four sacks by Tony Farace.
The Wildecats managed just 10 yards in their first four drives, but got rolling after that. Wilde Lake compiled 257 yards of offense to get its first win as a Class 1A school. Ironically, South Carroll was the site of Wilde Lake's overtime victory in last year's Class 2A title game.
South Carroll moved the ball well in the first half, and broke on top with 4:05 left in the first quarter when quarterback Joe Goodwin capped off an 18-play, 89-yard drive with a 1-yard sneak, giving the Cavaliers a 6-0 lead.
But it wasn't long before the Wildecats answered. After holding South Carroll in check on its next possession, Hamlin returned the punt 27 yards to the South Carroll 22. Four plays later, with 9:46 remaining in the half, White scored on a keeper from 9 yards out to give the Wildecats a 7-6 lead.
They used two big plays to extend the lead near the end of the half. After Andre Martin caught a screen pass for a 17-yard gain, White hit Pat Brown with a 31-yard pass down the right sideline to extend the lead to 13-6.
Aric Swezy finished off the Wilde Lake scoring with 4:59 left in the third quarter, capping a 10-play, 59-yard drive with a 3-yard run to make it 20-6.
A late 34-yard touchdown reception by South Carroll's Scott Mills closed the gap to 20-12, but the Wildecats then ran out the clock.