Easton hoping for different ending this time against Wilde Lake Football

November 20, 1992|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,Staff Writer

When his Easton Warriors take the field at Wilde Lake tomorrow, Ted Johnson will be hoping history does not repeat itself.

The Warriors were Wilde Lake's steppingstone to the 1A football championship last fall, when the Wildecats drilled Easton in the quarterfinals, 43-7. This year, Easton is back in the state title hunt.

But for fifth seed Easton (10-1) to win its first crown, the Warriors must confront the same obstacle, this time in the semifinal. They must knock off a top-seeded Wilde Lake team (10-1) eager to become only the second in Maryland history to win three consecutive state titles.

"They [Wilde Lake] were unbelievable last year. We were outclassed," Johnson said. "A lot of kids who played in that game are back this year. They're a year older, more experienced, and they're not intimidated."

The question is, will a year of experience be enough to handle Wilde Lake? Since losing a 28-27 overtime game to Southern (Anne Arundel) two months ago -- Wilde Lake's first loss in three years -- the Wildecats have won eight straight games by a score of 247-6, recording seven shutouts along the way.

"But they're [Easton] 10-1, so they've won a lot of football games, which means they have a lot of confidence," said Wilde Lake coach Doug DuVall. "They are a year better. The mistakes they made in youth last year, they're not going to make again."

That remains to be seen. What is certain is Wilde Lake remains in this position primarily because it makes few errors and forces a lot by the opposition. In its past three games, Wilde Lake has committed one turnover and its opponents have committed 17.

Easton is making its sixth playoff appearance. If the Warriors intend to advance to the final for the first time, they must avoid the costly mistakes they made against Wilde Lake last year. On its first possession, Easton fumbled inside its 20-yard line. Wilde Lake scored quickly and the rout was on.

Easton is counting on its veteran offensive line to sustain drives. Center Charles Streeter (5 feet 7, 210 pounds), guards Derek Marth (5-8, 200) and Ben Passyn (5-8, 180) and right tackle Keith Roberts (5-11, 280) are three-year varsity players who have been the foundation of an offense averaging 30 points.

Quarterback Chris Blue, whom Johnson calls Easton's "legitimate breakaway threat," has sparked the Warriors' attack with his running (350 yards, eight touchdowns) and passing (700 yards, 10 touchdowns). Fullback J. P. Morgan is the team's leading ground gainer (700 yards, 12 touchdowns). He rushed for 156 yards and a touchdown in last week's 21-7 quarterfinal victory over Joppatowne. Wide receiver Curtis Chase is Blue's favorite target.

The Wildecats, led by inside linebacker Donald Gibson and defensive ends Mike Green and Nate Cassella, are allowing only 115 yards a game. What's more, they have linebacker/safety Paul Knox back.

Knox, who fractured his forearm in the second game, returned last week to make 10 tackles and is "at about 90 percent," DuVall said. Without Knox, the defense has rarely been hurt by the big play. Withhim, the Wildecats are even tougher.

"It's going to be difficult to move the ball on them, to say the least," said Johnson, who concedes the Wildecats' advantage in speed.

"You're not going to get 50-yard touchdown runs against them. You have to drive the ball on them. When you do that, you have to make sure you don't turn it over. That's tough to do against their defense."

Easton is allowing 10 points a game, and is led by the linebacking corps of Morgan, Passyn and Marth. They will have to contend with a Wilde Lake offense that, since midseason, has blown out opponents routinely.

Two things have happened to energize the Wildecats' attack. Their offensive line -- the team's Achilles' heel in September -- has matured under DuVall's tutelage. Center Cedric Benning is the lone returning starter. Guards Eric Lach and Carlos Gerstenfeld and tackles Jay Green and Josh Feldmesser and Donovan Burns, all first-year starters, have improved dramatically.

The midseason decision to shift Cassella from tight end to

halfback in the wishbone was the final stroke that started Wilde Lake's latest streak. Since the move, Cassella has blossomed, gaining 639 yards and 11 touchdowns on 95 carries.

Cassella presents only one problem for defenses. Halfback Mike Green (144 carries, 993 yards, 15 touchdowns) gives the Wildecats an explosive threat. And quarterback Seth Willingham has been able to beat teams through the air (716 yards, four touchdowns) and by running the option superbly. Wide receivers Craig Butler and Reggie Alston are deep threats who can fly.

"We think we'll be able to get outside on them [Easton] and force them to change some things [in their defense]," DuVall said. "In the final analysis, speed is what got them [Easton] last year, and that's what's going to get them this year. As long as we don't make mistakes, we should be fine."

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