Wilde Lake has marched uncontested through the Class 1A playoffs so far, but the ride figures to get a little bumpy Saturday, when the Wildecats shoot for a place in Maryland high school football history.
When the Wildecats line up against Smithsburg (Washington County) at the University of Maryland's Byrd Stadium, they will try to become the sixth team to win back-to-back, state championships. They will belooking to extend their winning streak to 26 games, and to complete their second undefeated season in a row.
The Wildecats also will face their toughest opponent of the year.
Smithsburg already has won three 1A titles under coach Carroll Reid -- who has 249 career victories -- between 1979 and 1988. The Leopards are 11-1, their lone defeat coming against Middletown, a Frederick County school that plays Friday for the 2A championship.
The game promises to be an entertaining slugfest. Both teams love to run the ball. Both teams have a viable passing game as an option. Both teams play solid, gang-tackling defense. Both teams prefer a basic, gimmick-free style.
"I think it (the game) is going to be a knocker," says Reid. "I believe they are going to hit each other."
"They (Smithsburg) do all the basic things well. They look a lot like an old Penn State team," says Wilde Lake coach Doug DuVall. "The offensive line is well-coached, real solid. They run a lot of inside counters, traps and leads. And they throw enough to keep you honest."
"Their offensive line is probably the best we've seen all year," said defensive coach Mike Harrison. "Defensively, it's not going to be that involved preparing as it was the last couple of weeks. We're just going to line up and see how studly we actually are up front."
Wilde Lake'stop priority is using its size and quickness in its 5-2 defense to shut down a balanced Smithsburg attack. The Leopards, who run the I-formation, have an outstanding backfield tandem in fullback Toby Williams and tailback Colby Bachtell. They have combined for 2,100 yards rushing. Williams, a 6-foot-1, 215-pound Division I prospect, is a devastating runner and blocker.
Quarterback Tim Stout (1,005 yards passing, 12 TDs) and wide receivers Heath Crone (25 receptions, 452 yards, 6 TDs) and Jason Draper (21 receptions, 407 yards, 4 TDs) give theLeopards another option.
"We have to stop the run. Their kid (Williams) is just as big as (Wildecats middle linebacker) Brent (Guyton)," Harrison says. "He is a very good player, a stud."
The Wildecats have recorded eight shutouts, forced 49 turnovers and yielded 3.9 points a game largely because of Guyton (98 tackles, four interceptions, four fumble recoveries) and noseguard Tony Farace (59 tackles, nine sacks). They hope to stifle the Leopards up the middle. The matchupbetween Smithsburg center Craig Householder and Farace is critical.
"No. 55 (Farace) worries me. Their quickness up front worries me,"said Reid. "And Guyton is a head hunter."
Harrison thinks the play of tackles Blaize Connely-Duggan and James Easterly is essential tostopping the Leopards. If Smithsburg resorts to the pass, speedy defensive backs like cornerback Andre Martin and safety George Bradford should protect against the deep threat, while linebacker Nate Casellais an excellent pass rusher.
Offensively, Wilde Lake is averaging33 points and playing better than ever. The line averages 225 poundsand blocks superbly. The backfield of Damon Hamlin and Martin is healthy, and they have been terrific in the postseason. Hamlin has rushed for 1,250 yards and 24 TDs. Martin, also a dangerous kick returner,has rushed for 210 yards in two playoff games, and has over 1,000 all-purpose yards on the season.
"They've got great team speed. Either one of those two backs (Hamlin and Martin) can go all the way any minute," said Reid. "We have to keep the ball away from them."
Like the Leopards, the Wildecats can go to a strong passing attack if necessary. Quarterback Phil White, a 6-3, 205-pounder who throws deep effectively, spreads the wealth evenly among receivers Ira Crawley, Pat Brown, Steve Alleyne, Craig Butler and Reggie Alston. White has thrown for 1,255 yards and 11 TDs.
Smithsburg's defense operates out of a four-man front led by 300-pound tackle Bill Krumpe. Linebackers Williams (105 tackles) and Chris Kretsinger (115 tackles) spearhead the unit. The Leopards will try to force Wilde Lake to the air, which is where the Wildecats could win the game on the strength of White's arm and their speed advantage.
"He (DuVall) has a few more athletes than I do. They are in a class by themselves," Reid says. "If we can hang onto the ball and not make mistakes, we'll be all right."
Coach: Carroll Reid
Career record: 249-98-8