Gwynn Park vs. Douglass passes test, if not ball, as fundamental football fun

Phil Jackman

October 19, 1992|By Phil Jackman

Down in the southernmost part of Prince George's County, maybe 20 miles below Washington, the confrontation is known as "The Battle of [Route] 301," Gwynn Park and Douglass high schools getting together each autumn to play a football game the likes of which Jock Sutherland, Amos Alonzo Stagg and Walter Camp might have stuck around to see.

"Truck-stop football," is the way one spectator at Saturday's game described it, which was most appropriate. Imagine a bunch of truckers, on layover, going out for a no-holds-barred exercise.

"Our kids come from 10 miles up the road in Upper Marlboro and, in a lot of cases, only a block or two determines whether they come to our place or Gwynn Park," said Tom Glynn, coach of victorious Douglass.

This neighborhood rivalry was bare-knuckles football at its most interesting, neither team being so delicate as to complete a pass. As a matter of fact, the winners only attempted one -- for the conversion points (unsuccessfully).

"Oh, we throw on occasion," Glynn said, scanning his memory for the last time it happened. "We had a couple of pass plays that helped beat C. M. Wright." No mention of when that was.

"Call us dinosaurs or whatever," continued the coach, "but our theory is simple: If we have the ball, they don't. We're controlling things. We work hour after hour on the basics. Come down to our practice field and you'll see a 20-yard wide strip of dirt from the 40-yard line to the other end zone."

The thing is, Gwynn Park, which had a school-record eight-game winning streak snapped in the 14-0 setback, is the mirror image of Douglass: Tough, rugged, ram the ball up the middle between the tackles until you reach the end zone, have to punt or time runs out.

Flashy to these teams was an option play. Those who can't block or tackle need not apply.

The first 12-minute quarter took about 15 minutes to complete. Tony Mack smacked the line for Gwynn Park time after time, and Greg Lawrence, Antwann Duckett and Greg Jones did likewise for Douglass. The numbers would eventually tell. A holding penalty or offsides caused a whistle to blow every so often, but otherwise it was running time.

Fans in the stands had radios tuned in to the Maryland-Wake Forest game being played simultaneously in another section of the county and the Terps hadn't played a quarter in the time it took the schoolboys to arrive at halftime.

"This has been our style at Douglass for a long time, grind it out" said the school's athletic director and former football coach, John Latzo. "When I was coaching, I always used to put a couple of trick plays in there. The kids loved it. It was like stopping practice and passing out candy."

Just before halftime, with their sure-fisted and rugged backs carving out short but steady gains, Douglass rumbled 58 yards in 12 plays to score. Its attempted pass for the extra points drew snickers.

That six-minute drive proved just a teaser. Starting on its 20-yard line after the second-half kickoff, Douglass drove 80 yards in 15 plays to score again. The drive took nearly nine minutes off the clock. The Eagles looked like a construction crew resurfacing Route 301, no more than a punt away from the field.

Despite taking two dozen mega-hits while carrying the ball, Lawrence backed up the middle for the victors and seemed to DTC be in on every tackle. Afterward, save for the jersey nearly torn off his back, Greg looked spry enough to head out for the junior prom.

"We've got added incentive this year," he said. "A lot of us have been around the last two years when we went 10-2 and lost in the semifinals of the state tournament [first to Wilde Lake, 14-12, then to Linganore, 12-8]. I feel good about us making it all the way this time."

If it does emerge with the state 3-A title, Douglass will have pulled an iron-man stunt reminiscent of football before the ridiculous extremes of specialization.

"We've got about 30 kids on the team and 17 play," said Bill Johnson, who handles the defense for Glynn. Three of the interior linemen and Lawrence go both ways.

Lawrence can't remember the last time he came out of a game. "He's as good a player as there is around, so he stays on the field," explained Glynn.

"We're walking a tightrope," Johnson said. "We lost our first game and the history of the state tournament is that teams that lose two games don't make it. We've won six in a row now, but we've got a couple of tough ones to go."

Saturday's blanking was the third straight absorbed by Gwynn Park against Douglass, which has ruled the rivalry for the last eight seasons. It took the Yellow Jackets 23 years to record their first winning season last year and they had recorded four straight shutouts and six wins before the weekend. So they hardly considered themselves losers as they trooped off the field and the noise of the trucks on 301 once again could be heard.

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