Rocked by Arundel tacklers in the first quarter, Old Mill running back Harold Peters suffered a bruised neck and didn't get his "head together" until the fourth period.
Similarly, the Patriots were rattled by a Wildcats defense that held them to just 12 first-half yards, while racking up 149 offensively. Arundel quarterback George Epps' 38-yard toss found Jeff Bayne out-leaping two defenders and sprinting 23 yards into the end zone. Trevor Shar's kick made it 7-0 early in the second quarter.
But the metro area's eighth-ranked Patriots scored three touchdowns and a field goal in a 6 1/2-minute span of the fourth quarter for a 24-7 victory, --ing the Wildcats hopes of ruining Old Mill's homecoming.
"It looked like we got our composure back in the fourth quarter. We got some good solid blocking up the middle and some good runs. We went to our spread offense and spread their defense a little bit," said Old Mill coach Pete Regala, whose Patriots (6-1 overall, 5-1 against the county 4A league) had not scored a touchdown in itsprevious 11 quarters.
"The pressure was getting on us to score, so it felt good to get some points on the board. And they didn't want to get shutout for their homecoming."
Old Mill plowed for 112 yards in the final period, the bulk of which came on an 11-play, 80-yard scoringdrive which began in the third quarter. After Steve Oliver's kick, the game was tied at 7-7 with 8 minutes, 39 seconds remaining.
"It seemed like forever since we had been in the end zone," said Peters (seven carries, 31 yards) who scored the game-tying touchdown from 3 yards out. "We were just making a lot of mental mistakes -- like not reading the right keys and stuff like that."
Lineman Matt O'Donnelllikened the first three quarters to the fourth quarter of the Patriots 6-3 loss to Broadneck (4-3, 4-2) last week. The Patriots led that game, 3-0, until the fourth quarter when the offensive line allowed aBroadneck player to slip through for a blocked punt, which his Bruins teammate recovered in the end zone for the winning touchdown.
"Like last week, they shot our gaps and they were just beating us," O'Donnell said. "We weren't blocking, and they were just beating us mentally. We just had too many mental mistakes."
The true turning point, however, came on mistake by Arundel on its first down from scrimmage after Old Mill's game-tying score.
Epps' apparent screen pass was bobbled and dropped in the backfield by running back Desi Lomax. But the play was ruled a lateral, so when Old Mill's Mark Procaccini recovered at the 16, the Patriots had the ball back.
Four plays later, Oliver's 32-yard field goal put the Patriots ahead for good, 10-7, with 6:20 left.
While he admitted the call was controversial, Arundel's 15th-year coach Buddy Hepfer credited the Patriots' offensiveline.
"They were stunting more in the second half and our kids didn't pick that up. They were just killing us in the second half," said Hepfer, whose Wildcats (3-4, 3-3) entered the game with three straight wins. "You've got to play 48 minutes -- we played 24 in the firsthalf and they played 24 in the second."
The Patriots struck againfor a 17-7 lead with 2:56 left. Eric Sheppard (eight carries, 49 yards) went over from 2 yards out.
The touchdown came easily after Bayne's punt from the Arundel 16 went just 13 yards, a subsequent face mask penalty gave the Patriots the ball on the Arundel 7 and Rockey McMillen (24 yards, six carries) ran it to the 2.
Another Wildcats'mistake less than a minute later made it easy for Derric Johnson, who scored from a yard out and with Oliver's kick made it 24-7 with 1:55 left.
While being pursued by two defenders, Epps -- thinking a nearby official was a teammate -- pitched the ball to the side-stepping referee. The ball rolled to the 1-yard line, where Old Mill's ByronBrown recovered.
With the win, Old Mill remained ahead in the both the playoff and county title chase with the 19th-ranked Annapolis Panthers (5-2, 5-1) and the North County Knights (5-2, 4-2). Old Mill,which edged the Knights, 3-0, on Oct. 4, visits the Panthers next Friday, with games at home against Queen Anne's (Nov. 1) and Glen Burnie (Nov. 8).