The 1991 Maryland Scholastic Association A Conference football season is unusual for at least a couple of reasons.
Seven of the 10 teams in the league remain in the running for the conference title nearly halfway through the season. And the contenders share certain similarities.
All have outstanding defenses and inconsistent offenses. City College may be the exception, but some say that even the Knights have been winning more on their defensive strength than offensive efficiency.
The seven teams involved -- City, Poly, Loyola, Gilman, Forest Park, Cardinal Gibbons and Calvert Hall -- have each allowed an average of 11 points or less in league games.
Of that group, only City (23.3), Gibbons (20.5) and Loyola (17.0) are averaging more than two touchdowns in league games. Gibbons scored 41 points last week against 1-5 Mount St. Joseph. Eliminate that game, and the Crusaders average 13.6 points.
"This is a unique season," said Poly defensive coordinator Bucky Kimmett, who has been with the Engineers for 25 years. "It looks to me like no team is really dominant [on offense]. No team can take the ball and keep it."
City (4-0), Poly (2-2) and Gilman (3-2) have even more in commo-- none have more than three holdover defensive starters.
It is no coincidence that each has a veteran defensive coordinator who has put together a solid unit with mostly inexperienced varsity players.
City coach George Petrides, whose team leads the conference in points allowed with a 4.0 average, relies on Warren Schwartz. Schwartz has served as a head coach at Forest Park (1965-71), Southwestern (1971-81) and Eastern (1982-85). He has been City's defensive coordinator since 1986.
Nick Schloeder started at Gilman in 1958 after spending three years as an assistant under George Young at Calvert Hall. During 1968-71, he was head coach at Gilman. He took a break in 1972-75 and came back in 1976 as an assistant.
Kimmett has been at Poly for 25 years with head coach Augie Waibel. He also spent 10 years as an assistant at Edmondson and five years as an assistant at McDonogh.
There isn't a whole lot these three men have not seen in their combined 95 years of coaching, although each agrees that the similarities of the contenders this season is a rarity.
"City's offense is nice, but I wouldn't call it a dominant offense," said Schloeder, "not like some of the Poly offenses were or Calvert Hall. Even we've had dominant offenses, but no offense is like that this year."
Schloeder was more of an offensive-minded coach under Young, now the general manager of the NFL's New York Giants. Schloeder worked closely with current Gilman head coach Sherm Bristow when Bristow was a quarterback at Gilman.
However, since returning to Gilman in 1976, Schloeder primarily has been responsible for defenses that have produced a string of All-Metro linebackers, such as The Sun's 1990 Player of the Year, Jamal Cox, now playing at Georgia Tech.
This season, Gilman had just two holdover starters, linebacker Victor Carter-Bey, a Cox clone, and defensive lineman Samy Mir. The Greyhounds have allowed just 36 points in five league games (7.2 average), which ranks third in the conference.
City's Schwartz also dealt mostly with offenses as a head coach before joining City's program in 1986.
City has the conference's best defense, having allowed 12 points in three games. The Knights gave up a touchdown in their 20-6 win over Gilman Saturday with 23 seconds left after the offense fumbled, giving Gilman possession at City's 6.
City's outstanding defense has been a pleasant surprise for Schwartz.
"We had a lot of kids back on offense, so we thought we'd be better on offense than defense, where we lost everybody," said Schwartz. "We had kids sitting on the bench, second-liners who are actually doing better than what we thought was going to be a great defense last year."
Linebacker Charles Ransom and cornerback Hari Lymon were the only defensive starters who returned for City, but Lymon, the starting tailback, no longer starts on defense. Linebacker Kenyunia Williams has emerged as a standout for the Knights.
"They are an aggressive group, and Kenyunia has turned out to be a really good leader," said Schwartz.
Kimmett may have the most difficult job of the three defensive coordinators this season. The Engineers had just three holdover starters, but linebacker Derrick Odoms, the defensive leader, has played in only 1 1/2 of the four games.
He missed the opener against Gibbons with an elbow injury, played in the next game against Northern, but played less than one half against Loyola before leaving with a knee injury that probably ended his season.
Still, the Engineers have allowed 29 points in three league games, which ranks fifth in the conference.
The absence of Odoms for the second half of the Loyola game, which Poly lost, 14-6, after allowing two second-half touchdowns, and the absence of two other defensive regulars for disciplinary reasons and another starting linebacker with an injury, left Kimmett making some quick adjustments.
"Odoms is and was our best player, and we're almost sure he is out of the season," said Kimmett. "The kids really rallied around him because they knew he could come up with the big plays. This has been very difficult, but the defense has really played well, and I'm proud of them."