Knights, 'Dawgs offer two paths to top


November 12, 1993|By PAT O'MALLEY

North County and Southern are Anne Arundel County high school football teams that are so different, yet so similar. Their styles offer a contrast, but their results have them in the playoffs.

State championships are within reach of both teams, and it's not just wishful thinking.

No. 6 North County plays host to Watkins Mill (9-1) at 7:30 tonight in the state Class 4A quarterfinals, and No. 7 Southern visits Potomac (9-1) tomorrow for a 1 p.m. Class 2A quarterfinal in Prince George's County.

North County and Southern both are 9-1, with the Knights winning the county 4A title and the 'Dawgs taking the county 2A-3A title. Each has a nucleus of outstanding athletes, a strong defense, the ability to score in bunches, and a swagger that manifests confidence, but the similarities end there.

The Knights are making their third consecutive playoff appearance under effervescent Chuck Markiewicz; the 'Dawgs are making their first under quiescent Buck Gardner. A 9-1 record is expected at North County, but it is the best in Southern history.

Southern never had won more than seven games in a season (which it did four times under Tom Tereshinsky from 1961 to 1973) until this year, and the best Gardner had gone was 6-4 seven times during his first 19 years, including 1991 and 1992.

Now in his 20th season as head coach of the 'Dawgs, Gardner holds the distinction of being the only county football coach to lose 100 games. His career record is 92-108, and the distinction is something his longtime assistant Al Hunt reminds me about each week.

Each week Hunt calls my 24-Hour Sportsline, (410) 647-2499, to report the Southern result and he always starts it with, "from the only coach in county history to lose 100 games." It seems I was the first to bring it up and they won't let up on it.

It's that sense of humor that has enabled Gardner to endure 20 years in a part of the county where basketball is king.

Gardner has struggled annually to be respectable with small turnouts and not much size, but it all came together this year with a group of athletes who believe in themselves and have given a so-so program the status of a potential state champion.

In contrast, North County has been successful from the beginning, going 35-8 in its four years of existence under Markiewicz (52-21, seven-year career), including a 10-2 record and state semifinalist finish.

Markiewicz brought his run-and-shoot from Meade to North County, and the Knights' success with it has encouraged other county teams to add more passing to their attacks.

Gardner was somewhat of an innovator himself in the 1980s with a razzle-dazzle offense that included flea flickers and triple reverses. One year he even sent the media a roster with heights and weights listed metrically.

He has become a bit more conservative, but his penchant for the big surprise is still there.

Gardner is not afraid to have his team throw the football, but the Southern's passes are of a high-percentage variety because of an attack that boasts three backs with 600 yards or more rushing: Corey Contee (1,168), Jason Poknis (628) and Jamar Mullen (617).

Quarterback Joe McCafferty has completed 46 of 79 passes (.582) for 850 yards, but that pales in comparison to the Knights' Justin Rice, who is 135-for-211 (.613) for 1,945 yards. Where McCafferty compares favorably is with his 18 touchdown passes.

Rice leads the Baltimore/Washington metro areas with 27 touchdown passes.

Southern has three backs among the county's Top 10 in rushing and just one player in the receiving Top 10 (Wayne Small, 24 receptions); by comparison, North County has just one player in the rushing Top 10 (Mike Drocella, 887) but four in the receiving Top 10: Teon Carter (37 receptions), Lou Brown (36), Topper Ellis (29) and Kevin Mitchell (28).

North County led the county in scoring in 1991 and 1992, but Southern was first this year with 366 points, compared with the Knights' 311.

The most significant similarity between the two is defense. Southern has yielded only 67 points in 10 games, compared with North County's 117.

Don't be surprised if the teams with contrasting style share the same ultimate result: a state title.

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