Southern succeeds with an explosive mix of offensive chemistry Bulldogs run, pass way to 4-0 start

September 29, 1993|By Roch Eric Kubatko | Roch Eric Kubatko,Staff Writer

They come at you from all directions and at varying speeds. One runner lowers his head and explodes up the middle, another cuts to the outside and leaves tacklers grabbing at air.

And if that isn't enough to make your headgear spin, the quarterback is a master of the play-action fake who can dissect an unsuspecting defense.

Good luck adding up all that yardage. And all those points. Reach for the nearest calculator and try not to sprain a digit.

It wasn't exactly business as usual for No. 12 Southern-Anne Arundel last Thursday night, but the end result was the same. This time, it took a second-half rally and more good fortune to put away previously undefeated Lackey, 19-7, and remain unbeaten.

"This team has real good chemistry," said coach Buck Gardner.

At 4-0, the Bulldogs are off to their best start in Gardner's 20 seasons in Harwood. And the reasons are plentiful.

Start with a running game that combines the quickness and slick moves of seniors Corey Contee and Jamar Mullen with the power and surprising bursts of speed from senior fullback Jason Poknis.

Southern rushed for more than 300 yards in a 34-0 victory over Severn on Sept. 10. The following week, in a stunning 48-0 upset of then-No. 11 Wilde Lake, Poknis ran for 92 yards -- including 60 off of a draw play that went for a touchdown. Mullen scored three times and Contee had a touchdown and a two-point conversion run.

On Thursday, Contee recovered from a slow start to finish with 109 yards, including 79 after halftime.

At times, it appears that the Bulldogs could win a game simply by keeping the ball on the ground, but that would squander the talents of senior quarterback Joe McCafferty, who has completed 24 of 36 passes for 493 yards and 11 touchdowns. He has thrown just two interceptions.

McCafferty has a couple of big-play receivers in 5-foot-6 senior Wayne Small (11 catches, 252 yards) and Mullen (eight catches, 171 yards).

Small, who returned a kickoff 85 yards for a touchdown against Wilde Lake, put on an awesome display Thursday night with six catches -- including a couple in heavy traffic -- for 119 yards and three touchdowns.

"Joe and I have been playing together since 75-pound ball. We've been best friends for 10 years," he said. "He knows where I'm going to be, and I know where he's going to throw it."

Then there's the defense, run by assistant coach Jeff Cranford. A ball-hawking, gang-tackling unit, the Bulldogs hadn't allowed a point until Lackey's Tony Gray scored in the third quarter.

Hammond came close to breaking through in the opener on Sept. 4, when it drove to the 1-yard line. But Mullen intercepted a pass and returned it 100 yards for a score, and the Golden Bears lost, 41-0.

Lackey used a couple of long passing plays and the running of Gray to accumulate 282 yards, but that was an aberration. In the Wilde Lake rout, Southern permitted just 18 total yards and two first downs -- all in the second half.

"This is a true team," Cranford said after the Wilde Lake game. "There isn't one player who stands out."

Small did his best to rise above the crowd against Lackey, intercepting a pass and saving a couple of touchdowns with his blazing speed at cornerback.

Punter Jason Hahn had attempted just one kick in the first three games, as Southern controlled the clock with sustained drives that usually culminated with a score.

And then there's the fact that Southern seems to get every break, a prerequisite for any undefeated team.

The latest example occurred in the second quarter of Thursday's game, after Lackey had marched to the Bulldogs' 21-yard line. On fourth-and-1, the Chargers were penalized for delay of game, forcing Lackey to abandon the run on its next play. Quarterback Kydese Queen was flushed out of the pocket and tackled after a 1-yard gain.

Gardner has been unable to attend many practices this fall for what he says are "personal reasons." He is relying on his assistants -- especially Cranford -- and the maturity and leadership of his seniors to keep everyone focused and ready for every game.

"Buck and Jeff are different kind of people," said assistant coach Al Hunt. "Jeff is younger and he's played for Buck. The kids respect Buck, and they're real close to Jeff, too. I think they complement each other. Jeff's the players' coach and Buck's the guy you answer to."

It all sounds too good. Logic says that somewhere along the line, an opposing defense will be able to stuff the run. McCafferty will misfire at a crucial moment. The ball will take a funny bounce, and with it will go Southern's winning streak.

Longtime followers of the program haven't forgotten the 3-1 starts in 1985 and 1986 that led to 5-5 finishes. Or the 4-1 start in 1981 that was followed by a 2-3 stretch and another exclusion from the playoffs.

Will history repeat itself?

"There's a real good shot to go undefeated," Hunt said. "I think it's going to be a good year. How good? I don't know. High school is more mental than physical. A good team can go flat, and this could happen. But if you can handle Wilde Lake and Lackey, it's looking real good."

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