Clutch play, other factors combine to make semifinalists of Scorpions Oakland Mills prepares for 5th semifinal Saturday

November 19, 1998|By Rick Belz | Rick Belz,SUN STAFF

One thing that has distinguished the Oakland Mills football team this season is its ability to win the close games.

The Scorpions (10-1), who await Saturday's state Class 1A state semifinal showdown with Cambridge (10-1), have won four games by one touchdown or less.

A crucial, late-season 7-6 win over Howard by stopping a two-point conversion with 36 seconds left gave the Scorpions a second seed, keeping them home through the semifinals.

"It's a big deal for us to be playing at Oakland Mills this Saturday and for Cambridge to have to take a two-hour bus ride," Scorpions coach Ken Hovet said.

Part of Oakland Mills' ability in the clutch is coaching.

"They are a well-coached team," said Cambridge coach Doug Fleetwood. Scorps coach Ken Hovet's teams have a 44-19 record in his six seasons.

Part of that clutch play is desire. Oakland Mills always seems to want it more than its opponent.

"They really run to the ball well," Fleetwood said.

Part of the team's confidence is tradition. The Scorpions have made the state playoffs nine times and the semifinals four. They lost their only state final -- in 1982.

Defense has meant the difference in several of this year's close games.

Brian Holly (115 tackles), Joey Ellis (104 tackles), Jay Frizzelle (98 tackles), Vinnie Rubbo (83 tackles) and Jeremy Mundell (72 tackles) have been the heart of that defense. Lance Adams usually plays extremely well in the big games. And defensive back Nick Fambro is physical and disruptive.

Frizzelle has nine quarterback sacks, and Fambro has seven. Ellis has eight interceptions, two for touchdowns. And he's one away from tying the school record. Holly has four interceptions.

The team set a school record with 22 interceptions, including five apiece in back-to-back games -- a feat that cost Oakland Mills' coaches an expensive steak dinner for the secondary.

Oakland Mills has been able to overcome adversity, too.

The Scorpions lost Vinnie Rubbo, their single-season rushing record holder, to a sprained ankle in the first game of the season. Instead of last season's 1,873 yards on 243 carries, Rubbo has only 607 yards on 93 carries. Ellis leads the team with 619 yards rushing.

Rubbo's injuries -- he sprained a knee later in the season -- put JTC more pressure on quarterback T. J. Welsh. But Welsh has come through remarkably, setting Oakland Mills' single-season passing record of 1,641 yards, completing 92 of 183 (50.2 percent), including 15 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Welsh had expected to play tight end.

"We didn't think we'd have any passing game coming into this season," said Thomas Browne, Welsh's main target who has caught 39 passes for 851 yards and nine touchdowns. Welsh likes to throw long. Browne's average catch has been for nearly 22 yards.

"Overall, our whole team has stepped up," Browne said. He even points to late-season contributions from two players brought up from the JV, Andrew Deming and J. T. Rembert.

"We thought we could win a state championship this season," said Ellis. "We graduated a lot, but overall we're much better than last year."

Pub Date: 11/19/98

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