Three county high school football teams are headed to the state playoffs set to begin this weekend. Region IV champion Old Mill and second-year North County have qualified in Class 4A, while South River is going to the Class 3A playoffs.
Old Mill and North County are partof what is arguably the most balanced Class 4A Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association State Tournament ever. It is believed to be the first time that the top seed among the eight qualifying teams is not undefeated.
Montgomery and Prince George's counties have each fielded three teams for the 4A tourney, and Anne Arundel has two. Baltimore County'sWoodlawn finished 8-2, but was edged in playoff points by Paint Branch (8-2) of Montgomery for the eighth and final seed.
The four region winners earn first-round home games.
Old Mill (8-2), with its 4A Region IV title, is the No. 2 seed among the region champions in the tournament. Coach Pete Regala's Pats will play host at 7:30 p.m. Friday to No. 7-seed Largo (8-2) of Prince George's County.
North County (8-2) nosed out Thomas S. Wootton (8-2) of Montgomery County for fifth seed. The Knights of coach Chuck Markiewicz will travel to No. 4-seed Oxon Hill (8-2) of Prince George's on Saturday for a 1 p.m. game.
Two Montgomery County schools will face off at 7:30 Friday night: top-seeded Quince Orchard (9-1) at home against No. 8 Paint Branch (8-2). The other Montgomery team, sixth-seeded Wootton, will travel to No. 3 High Point (8-2) of Prince Georges for a 7:30 p.m. game.
Old Mill and North County would meet only if each got to the statechampionship game Saturday, Nov. 30. It would be a first for the county.
During the regular season, Old Mill took a 3-0 squeaker at home over North County, but the Knights ended up sharing the county 4A League championship with Old Mill and Severna Park by holding off Broadneck (5-5), 20-16, Friday.
The three teams finished 6-2 in county league play by virtue of Glen Burnie (5-5) upsetting Old Mill, 22-20, Friday night. Severna Park (7-3) scored on a six-yard touchdown pass from Tim Bowerman to John Milisitz with no time on the clock to stun archrival Annapolis (7-3), 16-14.
The way the seeds are set, ifOld Mill wins its first game, the Patriots would be home again on Nov. 22 vs. the Wootton-High Point winner. North County would play the Paint Branch-Quince Orchard survivor.
A North County victory over Oxon Hill and a Paint Branch upset of Quince Orchard -- not beyond the realm of possibility in this year of parity -- and the Knights would be home Nov. 22 in the state semis.
Old Mill is making its second straight trip to postseason play, but may not be going in with the best of team attitude after the Glen Burnie upset and rumored internal squabbling among the players and Coach Regala.
"You can look at the upset two ways," said Regala. "It might wake us up and get us going, or it could carry over and knock us down. But I think it will getus moving."
Several anonymous calls to my 24-Hour SPORTSLINE (647-2499) from parents the last couple of weeks predicted the Glen Burnie upset and alluded to morale problems.
Regala denied any serious team strife. "We had a little problem, but didn't kick anybody off the team. One kid quit and another kid had some discipline problems, but we took care of it as we should as coaches.
"You probably hear the same things I hear from the bleachers. You have to take it with a grain of salt," Regala said.
Of more concern right now to Regala and staff is the condition of senior two-way back Eric Sheppard, who chipped his ankle Friday night in the Glen Burnie game.
"Eric has the ankle in a hard cast, but it is supposed to come off Wednesday andhopefully we will be able to play Friday night," said Regala, adding, "It sounds like last year."
Last year the Pats lost in the firstround at home to Thomas Wootton, 17-7. It didn't help that Anne Arundel County Sun Player of the Year William Beverly injured an ankle and was unable to play for Old Mill in the playoffs.
"He (Sheppard) didn't break it and there is a good possibility he will play, but it is iffy right now. And Greek (running back Harold Peters) has been fighting the flu the last couple weeks. Hopefully he will be back full strength this week." Regala said.
North County is only in its second year, and was 8-2 a year ago as a 4A school playing mostly a 3A schedule. The Knights adopted the Andover schedule after the latter merged with Brooklyn Park to create the new county high school.
Moving into the rugged county 4A League this year, the Knights really distinguished themselves by gaining a piece of the county championship and coming from behind to win all but two of its games.
Markiewicz said his team played its best game Friday night against Broadneck.
The man who brought the exciting run-and-shoot offense to the county says that his junior quarterback Eric Howard is "comfortable now withour offense and throwing the ball well, and we're running a little bit now with Walker."