REISTERSTOWN — Turnovers, dropped passes, penalties and similar boo-boos turn football games into losses and seasons into disasters.
If you ever wanted to see how such mistakes can botch up a game, you should have beenat Hannah More School just over the county line in Baltimore County on Sunday morning.
There, Team I.O.U. stumbled to a 13-8 Northwest Flag Football League loss to Reisterstown. I.O.U., made up of nearly two-thirds Carroll residents, handed Reisterstown both its touchdowns and floundered offensively most of the game with dropped passes and inopportune penalties.
I.O.U. belatedly struck for too little, too late, and the team fell to 0-3.
Last year, the squad was known as the Westminster Pit Bulls and lived up to that scrappy moniker.
After a so-so regular season, it won a semifinal playoff game and made it to the Northwest League title match before losing. The Bulls also fought their wayto the semifinals of the state flag football championships before being eliminated.
Making that final four even got the team a berth at the flag national championships in New Jersey.
There, it lost, 6-0, in its opening contest on a 90-yard scoring play in the game's final moments.
Things seemed to be looking up this year when droves of new players tried out for the team.
It even got a sponsor, Merry-Go-Round, which markets the line of men's casual wear for which thesquad is named.
But things have quickly soured.
With its new players, the team hasn't yet developed the cohesion of last year, saysstarting quarterback John McGraw.
Coach Jerry Bass agrees. "We just haven't clicked. Mistakes have killed us.
"We moved the ball well in pre-season scrimmages, but we haven't executed our game plan," Bass said. "We haven't been able to get on top early."
McGraw underscored that fact by noting his team has yet to score before the fourth quarter in its three games. Failure to get on top early has been fatal in this loop, where points have been scarce.
No team has scored more than two touchdowns in a game during the first three weeks ofplay. And Team I.O.U. hasn't played badly on defense in its 14-7, 15-10 and 13-8 losses.
"We have put a lot of pressure on our defenseand it's held its own. It has always been a mainstay," Bass said.
But the dropped passes, turnovers, penalties and other offensive woes have come at the worst possible times. Sunday, the offense was again ineffective, although the ferocious Reisterstown pass rush gets some credit for that. McGraw spent most of the game running for his life.
That rush created two crucial second-quarter lapses in the Team I.O.U. kicking game. A bad snap, which punter Mike Roll was unable toadvance, and a blocked punt put Reisterstown inside the Team I.O.U. 10-yard line twice.
Quarterback Mike Walt quickly converted both times on first-play touchdown passes for Reisterstown's 13 points.
The I.O.U. offense, stymied most of the day, broke free in the final quarter.
Matt Bien's pass interception gave I.O.U. the ball on theReisterstown 38-yard line. McGraw then hit three successive passes, the last a 10-yard strike to running back Jeff Lee for the score.
He hit Lee again for the two-point conversion, bringing his team to within five points with 3:12 left to play.
But I.O.U.'s defense, rock-solid almost the entire game, lapsed at this crucial time. It was unable to hold Reisterstown, which had been pinned on its own 5-yard line after a clipping penalty on the ensuing kickoff.
Reisterstownwiggled out of that hole on several key runs and passes and ran out the clock.
"It's always tough to lose, particularly to Reisterstown because we have such a rivalry," Bass said.
The two teams have met many times since the league began in 1985, including that year's championship game.
Bass hopes the team can turn around and make another appearance at the national championships in Columbia, Howard County, Dec. 7-9.
His team though, must overcome its penchant for self-destruction before it can think of venturing far beyond the grassy expanses of Hannah More School.