The end to 15 frustrating years? Football: Unbeaten Bel Air's players say they're taking one game at a time, with their toughest game tomorrow, but others think they're on an elite, playoff course.

October 08, 1998|By Mark Hoeflich | Mark Hoeflich,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Bel Air football coach Bruce Riley and his staff saw the signs.

Quarterback Adam Rafalski was back for his third year as a starter.

The defense, despite needing new, key linemen, remained intact at both the linebacker and secondary positions.

Even more important, Riley noticed a change in his team's

commitment, as the weight room became crowded in the weeks leading to Bel Air's first summer practice.

Now is the time for the Bobcats. This is their chance to get to the playoffs for the first time in 15 years and close the gap with the the Harford County league's elite.

"Last year, people said we had a breakthrough season going 8-2, but our goal this year was to get to the next level," Riley said.

Through the first five weeks of the season, the No. 4-ranked Bobcats (5-0) have taken the area by storm. It began with a season-opening win over defending Class 3A state champion Wilde Lake and has extended to three shutouts in their last four games.

And the Bobcats have done it without much star quality, using instead an all-for-one, one-for-all mantra.

"Beating Wilde Lake was a big turn for our season," said Rafalski. "We really felt we could beat them."

Said Riley, "To be a playoff team, you have to beat playoff teams."

While beating Wilde Lake showed a lot about Bel Air's potential, the telling game comes tomorrow against Aberdeen, the five-time defending Harford County champion whom the Bobcats haven't beaten in five years.

"This really is our toughest game of the season," said senior safety/running back Kyle George. "We've played them close the last couple of years but have never won."

On this team of nonstars, the offense isn't without a central figure, however. Rafalski is a threat to scramble anytime and deft at running the triple option, which also features George and fullback Justin Amrein. Together, the three have 1,070 rushing yards.

Rafalski, who has rushed for 409 yards, is also a capable passer, and while he has thrown for only 319 yards, he has completed 20 of 41 passes (49 percent).

"This is my third year running the offense, so I have a full understanding of what is expected of me," Rafalski said. "A big factor for me has been being able to read defenses."

Amrein is Bel Air's short-yardage back, and his 431 rushing yards lead the team. He also is dependable at linebacker, where he has 64 tackles and leads a unit that has two-year starters in Brian Archis and Tony Cavallio.

"Justin is a tough kid, and he's so integral on both sides of the ball," said Riley, whose team is averaging 359 yards a game.

The biggest difference for Bel Air has been the swift development of its offensive and defensive lines. Guard Cavallio and newcomer Andy Rohrbaugh at tackle have helped shore up holes graduation left on the offensive line.

Jason Scheihing and Rob Coffeen, up from the JV, have made a similar impact on the defensive line. While Scheihing has helped zTC stabilize the interior, Coffeen has provided additional quickness from end and is the team's fourth leading tackler. Add a speedy secondary, and the Bobcats have allowed a measly 97 total yards and 5.6 points a game.

"I think our defense is strong because a lot of us have been playing together so long," said Amrein.

Given their recent success and the fact that nine starters are in their final season, the Bobcats are careful not to look too far ahead.

"The playoffs were actually not on our minds when the season started," Amrein said. "We know that first we have to take the county title, but we try to never look past the next game."

Pub Date: 10/08/98

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