Patriots Hope To Rewrite Playoff Script

Injury To Tailback Recalls Past Letdowns

November 14, 1991|By Roch Eric Kubatko | Roch Eric Kubatko,Staff writer

The plot is strikingly familiar. Pete Regala only hopes for a happier ending the second time around.

The story goes something like this: Old Mill's football team sheds its long-standing reputation as underachiever to win the Class 4A Region IV championship and advance to the state playoffs. But its fate takes a wicked turn, as an assortment of late-season injuries keep the Patriots from moving beyond the quarterfinals.

End of season. End of story.

Last year, star running back William Beverly was rendered useless with strained ankle ligaments, resulting in a 10-point loss to Thomas Wootton.

This year, Regala wonders if tailback/cornerback Eric Sheppard will be available for tomorrow's 7:30 p.m. game against Largo after chipping a bone in his ankle last week. And he wonders if his team will be stopped at the same point as last season.

Hollywood isn't the only place that churns out sequels.

"Yes, we've been there before," Regala said Tuesday afternoon. "Right now, Eric is really questionable and that's going to hurtus, unless he miraculously gets healthy real quick."

Sheppard hadthe cast removed Wednesday, five days after suffering the injury in a 22-20 upset loss to Glen Burnie.

"Our physical therapist said that with treatment, he could be ready. If he is, I don't know how goodhe'll be or how long he can go," Regala said.

"It's going to be difficult, but we have other backs and a lot of other kids who can play. But it's unfortunate that we might be losing one of our best."

The 5-foot-9 senior has been invaluable to the Patriots, rushing for five touchdowns and scoring two others on an interception (75 yards) and a kickoff return (94 yards). He's gained 386 yards on the ground and 63 through the air, and has six interceptions and 45 tackles (24 solo).

And now he may have to watch from the sidelines.

"It wasa freak accident," Regala said. "I've been looking at the film, and it's not that big a hit. He was tackled in the backfield, kind of twisted and went down. But it wasn't like he was gang-tackled and came out all beaten up. It was just one-on-one.

"Usually, an injury doesn't happen on a play like that. It's kind of disheartening, but what can you do? That's why you have subs."

Fortunately for Regala, he has depth in the backfield with seniors Harold Peters, Rufus Beard and John Bliss, among others. But Peters may not be at full strength --another reminder of last November.

Peters, too, was hobbled by anankle ailment when he replaced Beverly in the second half of the Wootton game. Now he's trying to regain his strength after a recent boutwith the flu.

"He seems a little healthier than he's been the last few weeks. That's a big plus there," Regala said of Peters, who hasrushed 138 times for 812 yards and nine touchdowns.

The ninth-year coach describes his passing attack as "adequate," with senior Tim Newby completing 46 percent of his passes for 482 yards and three touchdowns. He's been intercepted four times.

"It's not great, but it's not bad, either," Regala said.

The special teams have been superb -- "better than last year," Regala said -- with senior kicker SteveOliver converting 8 of 15 field goal attempts and 17 of 19 extra point tries. He also averages nearly 37 yards a punt.

All these elements have contributed to an 8-2 record, a second-straight region championship, a share of the county title with North County and Severna Park, and a No. 2 seeding in the states. But not every goal has been met.

"It's not over yet. Our biggest goal is to bring back a state championship," Regala said.

They'll have to get past the seventh-seeded Lions (8-2) of Prince George's County, a team Regala has seen only on film.

"They have pretty good size and their offense is very similar to ours, slot and pro-I," he said. "They have quick kids. Nothing fancy. They just come out after you."

Largo will come after Old Mill with one of the premier weapons in the state, sophomore running back Eric Cariaga, who averages nearly eight yards a carry and is the third-leading rusher in the Washington area with 1,577 yards and 10 touchdowns.

The Lions last won a state championship in 1976, when they competed as a 3A school. Since then, "we've been close a few times, losing out on the playoffs by one game or a few state points,"said 21-year coach Rocco Romeo.

When asked what kind of game he expects, Romeo said, "It's hard to tell. You've got two good teams, and you just hope for a good game and see how the breaks go."

And see if this year's script has a different ending.

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