When Joppatowne football coach Karlis Larson finishes talking about all that went wrong this season, it seems a wonder the Mariners went 8-4 and made it to the state semifinals.
But Larson has an easy explanation. "I attribute the success of our whole season to the kids,"he said. "This is a very smart, talented group. On their own ability, they went 8-4."
The Mariners advanced one step further than they did a year ago by reaching the state Class 1A semifinals. They lost to Smithsburg, 37-6, last Saturday. Larson said the Mariners simply ran into a better team.
"I think for us to even play a perfect game, we might have fallen short. There's no question we were outmatched."
Still, Larson thought the Mariners could have finished with a better record. He can point to exactly where the problem was --on the sideline.
For much of the season, Larson had to coach the team by himself. Assistantcoach John Jones transferred to North Harford, limiting his coachingtime to two days a week. Larson's friend, John Brenneman, drove downfrom York, Pa., on game days to help out.
Most high school football teams have a ratio of four or five players to one coach, but Joppatowne's was 14-1 and sometimes 28-1.
"A couple of Smithsburg coaches told me they wouldn't work under those conditions," said Larson. "It makes you just want to hit the wall when you find out you have these great kids and you can't spend the time with them."
Without therepetition and reinforcement from constant attention, the Mariners had to play smart -- literally. Center Bill Hadrys and tackles Pat Watson and Dan Reith all carry grade-point averages above 3.5. Guards Michael Harris and Chris Carr have averages above 3.0.
"With anybodyelse, we would have had to slow things down, but these guys are justso smart. They helped me and Coach Jones out, because they were suchcoachable people. Under other circumstances, I would have been pulling my hair out."
The Mariners also benefited from a schedule that served up some of the weakest competition early on. That gave Joppatowne a chance to build, especially on defense. The Mariners shut out their first four opponents. They gave up their first points to Aberdeen in a fifth-game 12-6 loss.
But Larson cited the Aberdeen loss asthe game when his defense came together. Joppatowne might have won that game but for a couple of touchdowns that were called back.
"That was a great defensive effort," said the fourth-year coach. "We started clicking, working as a team. We didn't have any stars. Everybodyworked together as a real unit, and I think that was our strength."
Linemen Hadrys, Carr, Reith and Chad Young, linebackers Harris andChris Weber and defensive backs Damon Davies, Vernon Wingfield, ChadGary and Mark Johnson led the defense, which Larson called the best since he's been coaching the squad.
Going into the Smithsburg game, the Mariners were giving up an average of only 7.7 points per game.In the state quarterfinal, they played strong, hard-hitting defense to beat Cambridge-South Dorchester, 24-12. Those devastating hits forced Cambridge into seven turnovers.
Against Smithsburg, however, the Mariners were on the other side of the turnover stats. They gave up the ball six times on their first eight possessions. Joppatowne gotnowhere with its running game, giving up two early fumbles, so the Mariners took to the air, where they were intercepted on four straightpossessions.
The Leopards (11-1) simply had a better defense. Ledby 300-pound tackle Bill Krumpe, Smithsburg's line dominated on bothdefense and offense.
Although the Mariners were disappointed by their loss, Larson said they should remember how far they've come in the last four years. The 1988 squad finished 1-9 with 16 players in varsity uniforms.
In 1989, the Mariners were 6-5 and made the state Class 1A quarterfinals. Last year, they finished 7-4, again reaching the quarterfinals.
"I expect to go back to the playoffs next year," said Larson, who will lose about half of both his offensive and defensive units. "I'm already thinking about Aug. 15 and what we're going to do -- and I'm working on getting a coaching staff."