Wilde Lake's football team does not depend on anyone else for motivation.
This year, the Wildecats reported to summer practice a self-driven team. Driven to become the sixth team in Maryland history to win back-to-back state titles. Determined to win their third state championship in the past seven seasons. Resolved to equal last year's undefeated mark -- the first in Wilde Lake history -- and extend their unbeaten streak to 26 games.
They weren't looking for inducement from outside their locker room.
But this week, as the Wildecats (11-0) prepare for Saturday's Class 1A semifinal against visiting Milford Mill (Baltimore County), they are practicing with a motivational gift, courtesy of Millers coach Bob Greene.
After his Millers (8-3) rallied to defeat Perryville(Cecil County), 8-7, last week in a 1A quarterfinal game, Greene told a reporter, "I have no doubt we can defeat Wilde Lake. If they playthat same defense, it's going to be hard to cover us. They've got some big boys, but they're not aggressive. That little team (Perryville) hit harder than I've seen Wilde Lake hit."
By yesterday, the newspaper story containing the comment had been distributed among the Wildecats. Greene's words were instantly ingrained in the minds of Wilde Lake coaches and players. Wilde Lake coach Doug DuVall bristled at the remarks.
"I don't know what team he was watching," DuVall said. "Going into the state finals, the kids need a jolt. That article will charge up their batteries. They're excited about this game, needless to say. The kids are really pumped. We're working real hard on offense and defense. We hope to get in a good hit or two Saturday.
"We've gotten calls from other people (coaches) in Baltimore County saying that he (Coach Greene) doesn't represent Baltimore County. They want us to drill the guy," DuVall added. "To say we're not aggressive,he might as well be talking about my kids or my mother. It's a personal thing."
Defensive coach Mike Harrison reacted angrily as well.
"I want to see what his (Greene's) kids do once we get aggressive," Harrison said. "They want to win, and win definitively, not only for everyone who reads newspapers and thinks this guy is a jerk, but for themselves. Monday, the kids were practicing at a frenzied pitch."
Linebacker Brent Guyton said, "It gives us an extra incentive to go out and beat them. It's a put-down of our team and Howard County football in general."
Greene, a first-year coach who brought the Millers back from a 4-6 record last year, stood by the comment for the most part. He maintained he said Wilde Lake wasn't as aggressive as Milford Mill.
"They (Wilde Lake) are a great team with a super coach, and my hat is off to him," Greene said. "But we're good, too. We feel like we're a team of destiny. We're not going over there to lie down."
Milford Mill is trying to win its first state championship since 1987, and the Millers are riding a seven-game winning streak. Although most of their victories came against teams with losing records, last month they upset Chesapeake, which was unbeaten at the time.
The Millers run two offensive formations, a power-I and a run-and-shoot. They rely heavily on the passing game, which is led by quarterback Jerome Dennis (1,762 yards, 17 touchdowns, 12 interceptions) and wide receivers Donald Covington (41 receptions, 723 yards, 6 TDs) andDennis
Badham (29 catches, 630 yards, 8 TDs). Running backs AlvinBooze and Jeffrey Carroll have combined for about 800 rushing yards.
Milford Mill must solve a Wilde Lake defense that has been on a two-month roll. The Wildecats have recorded seven shutouts. They are giving up just 4.3 points and 132 yards a game and have forced 46 turnovers. The defense has scored more touchdowns (eight) than it has surrendered (seven).
Guyton (86 tackles, four interceptions, four fumble recoveries) and nose guard Tony Farace (49 tackles, seven sacks) set the tone up the middle. The Wildecats allow less than two yards per rush. They are just as tough against the
pass. Andre Martin hasbeen terrific at cornerback, and safety George Bradford led the county with seven interceptions.
Offensively, Wilde Lake is averaging 32 points per game and appears to be peaking at the perfect time, having scored 103 points in the last two weeks. The Wildecats enjoy about a 25-pound edge per man up front.
Quarterback Phil White (1,145 yards, 11 TDs, 3 interceptions) distributes the ball to wide receivers Martin, Ira Crawley and Pat Brown. And running back Damon Hamlin (1,147 yards, 21 TDs) is finally healthy after playing much of the season on a sore ankle. Martin rushed for 126 yards last week in the Wildecats' 43-7 quarterfinal victory over Easton.
Milford Mill counters on defense with linebackers Brian Campbell, Covington and Chris Barnes, who have combined for 80 solo tackles. Dennis earned All-County honors at safety.
"We have to be perfect," Greene said. "My quarterback has to be on target, my receivers have to run disciplined routes, we have to gang-tackle like a swarm of bees, and we can't be intimidated."
DuVall sees pressuring Dennis as the key to stopping the Millers. He also sees the Wildecats making a statement, in addition to continuing on to the finals.
"If it comes together for us, he (Greene) is going to have a long afternoon," DuVall said.