Just when I thought the county's tastiest football showdown -- Wilde Lake vs. Oakland Mills -- would reward our annually heightened expectations after two straight one-sided Wildecat victories, the luck of the Scorpions takes a terrible turn.
The Scorpions achieved a desperately needed, 28-3 victory Saturday over visiting Thomas Johnson (Frederick County). They rebounded from a frustrating 0-2 start behind a fearsome defensive performance, inwhich they held Thomas Johnson to minus 48 yards on 29 rushing attempts and allowed the Patriots past midfield just twice.
But in achieving its breakout victory, Oakland Mills broke down.
They lost senior running back/defensive back Akil Benjamin to a broken ankle in the second quarter. Then, midway through the fourth quarter, backup senior quarterback Kenya Edwards, normally a starting running back and also a wide receiver and defensive back, went down with a broken arm.Both are out for the season.
And the injuries were only the beginning.
With 5:44 left in the first half and Oakland Mills leading, 20-3, Scorpions quarterback Antwan Baker was ejected after a brief shoving match with a Thomas
Johnson player. The incident, which alsodrew a 15-yard personal foul penalty, followed an interception thrown by Baker, who then made the tackle.
Referee Walt Hurich's decision leaves the Scorpions' offensive backfield stripped bare going intothe biggest game of the season. Under county rules, if a player is ejected, the player must sit out the following game.
Baker will watch the proceedings at Wilde Lake Saturday, while Oakland Mills will throw a patchwork backfield at the Wildecats. Scorpions coach Ken Klock, mindful that some element of surprise is his only ad
vantage, is guarding his solution.
Klock, however, isn't guarding his feelings about Hurich's call. "The kid pushed Antwan, and Antwan pushed back. I thought it warranted a 15-yard flag but not an ejection," Klock said. "It's not like he was throwing punches. What gets me is the T.J. kid didn't get a flag or an ejection."
Hurich's judgment was well-intentioned but too hasty. Besides denying Oakland Mills its key player for Saturday's showdown, Hurich ignored the context of the foul.
In a sport as violent as football (before the two Scorpions' inju
ries, Benjamin knocked Patriots running back Phil Flannery semiconscious and out of the game with a ferocious hit), how can a three-second shoving match draw more than a 15-yard penalty and a stern warning to the players involved? Soccer players, whose antics inspired theone-game suspension rule several years ago, still receive a second chance in the form of a yellow card after committing fouls judged lessthan flagrant. Football players deserve the same break.
A loss toWilde Lake -- or anyone else -- in the regular season's final seven weeks will eliminate Oakland Mills from playoff contention. Injury and ejection problems aside, though, the Scorpions have no one to blamefor their predicament but themselves.
They blew a second-half, two-touchdown lead to North County in a season-opening, 22-21 defeat. Two weeks ago at Linganore, they committed seven turnovers and were penalized for 85 yards in the first half en route to a 14-10 defeat.
Wilde Lake, meanwhile, has looked less than overwhelming while getting off to a 3-0 start. But, outside of the huge health advantage the Wildecats now enjoy going into their Oakland Mills showdown, the Wildecats figure to improve steadily as they smooth out wrinkles in theirrun-and-shoot offense and their youthful defensive secondary.
TheWildecats have already surrendered four touchdowns and more big plays than last year's defense, which allowed only 29 points in the entire regular season. Linebacker Brent Guyton (42 tackles, two interceptions, two fumble recoveries) and nose-guard Tony Farace (32 tackles, four sacks, two fumble recoveries) have been sensational.
Offensively, the Wildecats are getting by with a sore Damon Hamlin (ankle) at running back. He's rushed for 256 yards and four TDs. Quarterback Phil White, who could have a field day against the battered Scorpions, has been terrific through the first three weeks. He's completed 26 of 55 passes for 513 yards, three TDs and no interceptions. He's also rushed for 137 yards and two TDs.
After Wilde Lake and Oakland Mills, the county's next division consists of Centennial, Atholton and Howard.
Centennial is off to a solid 2-1 start, largely because of their formidable offensive backfield.
Fullback Brian Kujawa (198 yards, 7.9 yards per carry, 3 TDs) and halfback Sean West (158 yards, 5.4, 2 TDs) give the Eagles two options, and quarterback Lawrence Holmes (13-for-21, 240 yards, 5 TDs) continues to get more comfortable behind an offensive line anchored by the out
standing Charlie Stewart. Kujawa and West have also combined for seven catches for 120 yards and two touchdowns. Linebackers Stewart (43 tackles) and Kujawa (17 tackles, 3 sacks) also lead the defense.