Fales all right being wrong

On High Schools

Commentary

October 04, 2005|By MILTON KENT

You would have thought, based on their brilliant second-half performance Friday night, which led to a 19-12 win over Mount Hebron, that Atholton football coach Chuck Fales gave one of the great halftime speeches in history.

After all, the Raiders spotted the Vikings a 12-0 lead, then came out of the locker room with scores on three consecutive second-half possessions.

So, how about it, coach? Did you invoke the ghosts of George Gipp, Red Grange and Bronko Nagurski to get Atholton fired up?

Nope, Fales said. All he had for his team was contained in 12 letters.

"I said three words. `Prove me wrong,' " Fales said. "We had some problems before the game started, and I lit them up good. My coaching staff did the halftime talk, and my last words were `Prove me wrong.' They came out in the second half and they proved me wrong."

Fales wouldn't elaborate on what the pre-game problems were with his team, but suffice it to say, they didn't get in the way of the win. The victory triggered a wild on-the-field celebration, the kind you don't often see among 2-2 teams.

But, as Fales explains it, a .500 record this late in the season, even after the fourth game is unusual enough to warrant marking the moment.

"You have to understand something," said Fales, in his fifth year as head coach. "Atholton football the last couple of years has been 1-9, 2-8, 0-10. For me, as a head coach, this is probably the best start we've had in five years. Usually, we've been 0-1, 0-2, 0-3, 0-4 by now, then go 0-5 and maybe squeak through and get one. That's probably why you saw such a huge celebration."

"We have a long way to go, but I said from the beginning that Atholton is here to play. We're not a pushover. We have depth this year. We have 49 ballplayers and the second team is not a great falloff from the first team. We can go in there and make some plays."

As a sign that things may be different, the Raiders made big plays Friday to give themselves a chance. Torrey Fassett returned a third-quarter punt 40 yards to just inside midfield. Three plays later, senior Matt Winger ran 11 yards for a touchdown with about three minutes left and Atholton was on its way. After an interception with 1:25 remaining in the third quarter, Winger ran 43 yards for his second touchdown with 43 seconds left in the quarter to tie the score.

In the fourth quarter, Fassett, who plays free safety as well as receiver, ended a potential Mount Hebron scoring drive with a brilliant diving interception at the Atholton 24. The 6-foot-3, 185-pound junior has the frame and athleticism to be a star, once he gets familiar with the big time.

"He's been playing very timid recently," Winger said. "He just came out with a big game and played to his potential. He played really well in JV last year, but he's been struggling a little bit, but I think he's on the right path now. He's ready to go."

From there, the Raiders offense set off on a 76-yard drive punctuated by a 20-yard reception by Winger and a 35-yard touchdown run from junior tailback Troy Gibson with less than nine minutes remaining.

Despite allowing Mount Hebron to convert on a third-and-24 late in the fourth quarter, the Raiders defense held off the Vikings on an interception from senior Craig Velencia in the final two minutes.

"We bent a little bit, but we didn't break," Fales said. "That's the name of the game in football sometimes. If you can do that, that's great."

The Raiders likely will go as far as Winger can take them. The 5-11 tailback-strong safety has spearheaded both Atholton wins, running for 165 yards on 27 carries Friday, to follow a stunning 341-yard, four-touchdown performance Sept. 16 in a 40-22 win over Rockville.

"It's something else, man," Winger said. "You get a lot of attention, but I owe it all to my line. If I didn't have them, I wouldn't be doing anything."

Indeed, Winger treated his offensive line to a meal at a local Taco Bell as thanks for a stellar blocking job in the Rockville game. A week later, Long Reach coach Pete Hughes and defensive coordinator Kevin Burnett treated the defense to lunch at a McDonald's for holding Winger to 48 yards in Long Reach's 28-13 win over Atholton.

(By the way, haven't any of these Howard County football players and coaches heard of Subway, the healthy alternative?)

Improved offensive line play notwithstanding, Winger, who ran for 986 yards last year, has changed his running style. Fales said the team has been the beneficiary.

"He does run hard," Fales said. "Matt was more of a power runner last year. I think now he has better vision. He can see the holes and he makes that one quick cut and he goes. Last year, he didn't do that. Last year, he was just, `Let's just hit and get.' Now, he hits and then bounces and finds the seam he needs to find."

And you are to be excused if you haven't heard of Winger before now. Atholton's history and the fact that Howard County has several good running backs, including Long Reach junior Keith Richardson and Wilde Lake senior Jarad Flagg, have taken Winger off the radar. Winger out-dueled Mount Hebron's Chris Eccleston, who ran for two scores and broke off a 60-yard run in the first half, but was quiet in the second half Friday.

Now all he and the rest of the Raiders need to do is a little more winning. The attention and stirring speeches should take care of themselves.

milton.kent@baltsun.com

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