SMALLWOOD — Playoff talk was hard to find after Gamber-Smallwood topped Francis Scott Key in the opener of Saturday's three-part showdown of Carroll County Mountain Valley Football League clubs at fog-shrouded Deer Park.
That 19-6 Mustang win --ed a faint Key hope for a playoff slot in the MVL's pony division for 8- to 10-year-olds.
In the junior varsity and varsity contests that followed, the gridders were playing simply for pride in their last game of the year.
As the fog thickened, Key won the JV game, 32-21, and Gamber took the varsity contest, 7-0.
The visibility got so bad by the second half of the JV game that Key coach Rick Grandinetti, who videotapes the action, simply turned off his camera.
Mustang varsity coach JohnFitzgerald, whose 13- to 14-year-old players struggled through the fog in the finale, said later, "I wasn't always sure there was a team on the other side of the field."
The pony game was played under slightly better conditions.
A Key win there and a Mount Airy loss inits game would have meant a playoff slot for the Junior Eagles ponys, the first for any Key team since the early 1980s.
But Gamber quickly spoiled that scenario.
Backs Ryan Fischer and Ryan Esposito ran for touchdowns and Fischer --ed 65 yards with an intercepted pass for another, making the score 19-0 at halftime.
Gamber pony coach Dean Blizzard said he wasn't out to play the spoiler role.
"I toldthem we were sitting on the fence (with a 4-4 record at the start ofthe game) and this could be a winning season or a losing season. They just went out there and played their hearts out," Blizzard said.
Chris Lagunas ran for Key's only touchdown on a 35-yard double-reverse in the third quarter.
The JV then played a wild affair featuring eight touchdowns.
Twelve-year-old Junior Eagles halfback Ryan Mollet ran for two scores, caught a 6-yard pass from quarterback Doug Arnold for another, and hit teammate Larry Naill with a 15-yard strikefor yet another.
The Mustangs fought to keep pace, scoring on several spectacular plays to make the outcome interesting, if not in their favor.
They drew first blood when Rich Brewer scampered 65 yards with the opening kickoff.
But Jason Diehl scored on a 36-yard run, and Mollet tallied on Arnold's pass to put the Junior Eagles on top, 12-7, at the half.
After Mollet's halfback option scoring pass to Naill in the third quarter, Gamber's James Unglesbee streaked 55 yards down the left sideline with a pitchout to keep things close at 19-14.
But Key pulled away to a 32-14 lead before Gamber's Matt Primm pulled off a play that many of the 75 to 100 onlookers probably never saw.
The Mustang quarterback picked up a bad snap somewhere out in the fog and ran 40 yards through the murk to score.
"I never saw him after he ran the first 20 yards. I had to listen to the crowdnoise from the other sideline to find out what had happened," said Gamber JV coach John Baust with a laugh.
But he nevertheless enjoyed it, even though his squad ended the year 2-7.
"It was one of their best games. They played as a team. We did what we should have beendoing all year," Baust said.
The semi-visible varsity finale was a completely different kettle of fish, as neither team mounted much of an offense.
The elements grounded the aerial game, and the contest was scoreless at halftime.
Late in third quarter, Gamber got a big break when cornerback Matt Smith intercepted a pass near midfield.
Staying with the run, the Mustangs ground out the real estate in5- and 6-yard chunks until Brandon Bollinger bolted 8 yards to the end zone early in the fourth stanza.
Backfield mate Ryan Krauss scored the extra point on a dive play.
Varsity coach Fitzgerald said he was disappointed at his team's 3-6 season, noting, "We had the potential to do a little bit better."
But while he felt the ball tooka wrong bounce in some close games, he said his team's attitude never did.
"They never gave up. They kept on working. Their intensity and determination grew," he said.
But even in the immediate wake of this just-concluded campaign, Fitzgerald hinted strongly that the next one already beckons.
"We'll take a couple of weeks off and then have our coaches' meetings to see where we want to go next year," he said.