Class 2A title game: redemption vs. tradition

`D,' perseverance puts overlooked Joppatowne one win away from crown

November 30, 2001|By Lem Satterfield | Lem Satterfield,SUN STAFF

Joppatowne wide receiver Ryan Spann has hardly slept this week, pondering today's 4 p.m. Class 2A state title game against Hereford at the University of Maryland's Byrd Stadium.

"I see them underestimating us and we come out so fired up. I see us blowing them off the ball," said Spann, a senior, who is thinking football whether sleeping or daydreaming. "I always see me catching passes for touchdowns. I see [teammate] George Smith catching passes. They can't stop our passing game - that's what I see every night. I see us winning."

Spann and the fifth-ranked Mariners (12-0) hope to prevent their dream season from coming to a nightmarish end against the top-ranked Bulls (12-0) of Baltimore County, who are going for their second state title since 1997.

Second-team All-Metro defensive lineman Phil Tillman (6 feet 3, 303 pounds) leads the team with 19 sacks, followed by Alex Clark with 11. Six-foot-3, 303-pound Tony Spriggs, Chris Robinson and Alex Kalambihis each have five. The Mariners also have recovered 18 fumbles, led by Jeff Bates with five.

Wicomico was 10-0 and averaging 35 points before it lost, 14-0, to the Mariners two weeks ago. Middletown was 10-0, and its running back, Josh Keeney, coming off a 186-yard effort in a win over Glenelg when the Mariners held Keeney to 54 yards rushing and no touchdowns in last week's 14-13 semifinal win.

"We're starting to play together, and starting to find out we have some depth on defense," said seventh-year coach Greg Komondor, whose Mariners won their first outright Harford County title this fall. "Since a month ago ... we started to play our first defense the whole time. ... They're looking pretty good."

Joppatowne has collected 38 turnovers and given the ball away only 10 times. Spann, who also plays cornerback, had a crucial interception against Middletown, his second of the year. His pick also was the team's 20th - a single-season school record. D'Angelo Goffigan and Doug Green have five interceptions each.

"It's my job, that's all it is," Spann said of the feat. "If someone messes up, they let the whole team down. But if we play together, we can't be beat."

Spann runs a 4.8-second 40-yard dash - not that fast by high school standards - and quarterback Dalys Talley is a second slower. But Talley is the team's second-leading rusher behind Goffigan (1,200 yards, 11 touchdowns) with 600 yards and five touchdowns. Behind an offensive line whose average weight is 252 pounds, he has thrown for nearly 1,500 yards and 22 touchdowns, mostly to Smith (13) and Spann (eight). He has thrown three interceptions.

Talley injured his ankle against Middletown and did not return. His status for today won't be determined until game time.

"When Dalys got hurt, we knew it wasn't the end of the world. We had a backup [Josh McKemy] and we rooted him on," said Goffigan. "There have been games where we're like, `What are we going to do?' But we've never panicked. When we're down, we have the attitude like, `OK guys, we know what we have to do to win,' and just step it up a notch."

This is the fourth state title game appearance for the Mariners, but their first since 1976. They've made the playoffs 10 times, winning the Class C title in 1975.

Two years ago, Komondor wasn't sure he'd be here.

"We had to remove six kids from the team for disciplinary reasons," Komondor said. "We were 1-5 at that point, and then won three of the last five games to sort of set the stage for last year, when we were 8-2 and second in the county."

Failing to make the playoffs focused the players, said Komondor.

Spann rode the bench last year after transferring from Loch Raven, where he started as a sophomore.

"All of last year, I practiced really hard, knowing I'd get my chance this year," Spann said. "Now being a starter, it's been an unbelievable year. A lot of people thought they were going to beat us, even Middletown. ... We don't get enough credit for being a really solid team, but we feel like if we play together, nobody will beat us."

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