Once the South River football team's offense caught up with its defense, the opposition did all the chasing.
The Seahawks struggled for points in the first three weeks of the season, but still managed two narrow victories heading into a Sept. 27 game against Bladensburg of Prince George's County.
That's when the offensive awakening took place, with South River scoring more points in one game than it had in the first three combined (19) in a 26-0 rout.
And the Seahawks have registered at least two touchdowns in every game since -- all victories -- en route to a county-best 9-1 record and fifth seeding in the Class 3A state playoffs.
Included was a school-record 54 points against Lansdowne, which came a week after South River upset defending 4A state champion Randallstown, 27-14.
"Normally, at the beginning, the offense is behind the defense, and that was true this season," said Coach Dave Summey, whose team visits fourth-seeded Seneca Valley at 1 p.m. tomorrow in the quarterfinals.
"Even though we had a good nucleus of returning backs, the linemen hadn't played together very much. Everybody wassaying we had our whole backfield returning, but it doesn't matter if there's no hole to run through.
"Now, we have continuity, and the main person responsible is my assistant coach, Jim Henne. He's donea tremendous job bringing them along. The kids got better each week."
As did the entire team, winners of seven straight after a 14-7 loss to Linganore on Sept. 20.
But any discussion of the South River team starts with its defense, which has surrendered a county-low 79points.
The Seahawks' coaching staff grades each player on a point system, and senior linebacker Trevor Perkins ranks the highest with148, followed by senior tackle Robert Schmaldienst at 134. Senior cornerback Ricky Brookman and junior defensive end Jaron Hairston each have 100 points.
Farther down the list is senior safety Joe Messenese, who leads South River with four interceptions.
Offensively, the Seahawks boast a trio of productive running backs in seniors ChrisMessineo, Kevin Ferguson and K. C. Palmer, who combined for 16 touchdowns during the regular season.
Messineo rushed for 704 yards andfive touchdowns, and caught five passes for another 128 yards and two scores.
Ferguson accounted for 551 yards and four touchdowns on the ground, while Palmer -- a newcomer who Summey calls "a very pleasant surprise" -- averages 9.5 yards a carry and has five touchdowns.
Brookman provides added depth with 24 carries for 155 yards.
Senior quarterback Jake Cameron only completed 31 percent of his passes(19 of 60), but he threw for 391 yards and five touchdowns, and picked up another seven touchdowns rushing.
His favorite targets are junior Jason Fullmer (six catches, 154 yards, two touchdowns) and senior Jim Wilson (five catches, 90 yards, one TD).
Other than the early-season loss, South River's only misfortune was competing in the same region as McDonough, which finished with more playoff points to grab the No. 1 seeding.
But Summey said his team has no one to blamebut itself. "We easily could have had a home game if we hadn't lost.They deserve it because they went 10-0," he said.
Meanwhile, Region I champion Seneca Valley went 9-1, its only loss coming against Quince Orchard, 21-20, in early October. The Eagles have gone 150-35 in17 years, winning eight Montgomery County and five state titles.
Their last state championship, at the 4A level, came in 1987.
"They're a very good football team, no glaring weaknesses," said Summey, who watched the Eagles defeat Watkins Mill, 43-28, last Saturday. They've outscored opponents, 339-94.
He spoke of 5-foot-5, 150-pound junior tailback Bryan Blessing, who left a lasting impression Saturday with 210 yards rushing and four touchdowns. Through 10 games, he has 981 yards and 20 touchdowns.
Seneca Valley coach Terry Changurissaid the two teams "match up evenly," with both using wing-T offenses and 5-2 defenses.
"The difference is we spread out and throw more if the situation dictates it. They like to run a double tight-end offense, while we run multiple formations," he said.
Summey said, "They're good at the skill postions. But if we go over there and play our game and are able to dictate what we want, like ball control, andplay sound defense and stay healthy and not make mistakes, we'll be in the ballgame."