There's some new kids on the unbeaten block After two bad years, Lakers on rebound

September 27, 1993|By Derek Toney | Derek Toney,Contributing Writer

After the first month of the football season, the list of unbeatens has some familiar names -- and one not so familiar.

City, Poly and Patterson have continued their winning ways. The unfamiliar name on the list: Lake Clifton.

Winners of only one of 20 games the previous two seasons, Lake Clifton is one of the area's early-season surprises, off to a 4-0 start.

"Yes, I'm really surprised," said Lake Clifton coach David White. "After the last couple years when we were struggling offensively and defensively, we weren't expecting this. We knew we had some people coming back. We didn't know they would be as ready to play football as they are."

After spending the last two seasons in the Maryland Scholastic Association A Conference, the Lakers are now in the City 4A League. Even though the 4A League overall may not be as strong as the A Conference, they aren't complaining, especially after enduring a 13-game losing streak.

Lake Clifton isn't bragging about its early success. It knows how fast things can change.

Just ask Ricky Matthews.

Matthews is the lone remaining player from the 1990 squad, which won the MSA B Conference championship and finished ninth in The Sun's Top 20. Now, after two dismal seasons, he's enjoying the upside in his senior season.

"We hung in there and found out what we had to do," said Matthews, a 5-foot-7 tailback who has rushed for 216 yards. "The coaches day-in and day-out have kept getting us prepared. They tell us we needed respect, so we have no choice but to come out here and work hard."

The Lakers were dominant in the B Conference in 1989 and 1990, going 18-2 and reaching the championship game both seasons. They moved up to the A Conference after the 1990 season.

That's when their problems began.

Despite a huge 1991 summer turnout of more than 100, the nucleus of the previous two Lake Clifton's teams had graduated. It was a rebuilding season in what was then the area's toughest conference. The result: 0-10 overall and 0-9 in the conference. The Lakers were outscored, 261-26, in the nine conference games.

Signs of improvement began early last season -- a six-point loss to J. M. Bennett of Wicomico County in the opener; losses to McDonogh (21-9) and Gilman (14-0) in Lake Clifton's first two conference games after losing to them by a combined 36 points in 1991.

A week later, the 13-game losing skid ended with an 11-8 overtime victory over Forest Park. Even though, the Lakers lost their final six games, they felt playing in the A Conference was beneficial.

"Nobody likes losing," said senior wide receiver Dennis Harding. "The team over the past two years did win one game, but we kept our spirits up. Every day we were out here practicing and working hard."

Harding, who played on the Lakers' B Conference junior-varsity champion, has been the main offensive threat for the past two seasons. In three games, he has 15 catches for 314 yards, and also has stepped up his play defensively from an end position.

Lake Clifton also has gotten good play from senior quarterback Kevin Estep, who has completed 15 of 23 for 390 yards and three touchdowns. Until this season, the only real action he had seen was in 1990, when he was a member of Northwood's 12-14 Maryland State Recreation championship team.

"We are out to prove something," said Estep, who's 5 feet 7. "We have been 1-19 the last two years, so we're just coming out ready to play. There isn't any looking back."

White is very cautious about the prospects of a winning season or a state playoff berth. There are seven games still to be played, including meetings with Poly, Patterson and Dunbar. But after being a laughingstock the last two years, Lake Clifton is having fun.

"It has been a total package," said White. "These guys come to practice every day, they work hard. They are about business and serious about football. The one thing they want to do is to get respect."

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