On the way to the practice field the other day, members of the City football team's defense paused a moment to recall who among them had struck the hardest blow upon an opponent this season.
Considering that the Knights' defenders have dubbed themselves "The Hit Squad," the conversation took on the gusto of a gathering of food tasters remembering the best dish they had ever tasted.
The consensus was a hit by junior defensive tackle James Carmon in the opener against a Forest Park wide receiver on a reverse.
"He [teammate Chris Hale] brought back a good memory," Carmon said, chuckling. "That hit was the best hit I've done in my whole career. I came from the blind side, right behind the quarterback [and slaps his hands together]. He was in my way, and I had to take him out."
The hit served notice to Forest Park and anyone else that the Knights were all about business.
"We create a lot of turnovers by that hard hitting," City coach George Petrides said. "That's been the success of our team. It's good chemistry. It's a good group of young men and they've worked hard from Day One."
It's that combination of hard hitting and hard work that has given City (10-0), ranked No. 2 in the The Sun poll, a solid chance to win the school's first state championship, as the Knights enter the playoffs not only as the No. 1 seed in their North region, but as the school with the most points in Class 3A.
That means the Knights, who open the playoffs tomorrow against Mervo at Poly, can win a state title without leaving the city limits, no small matter to City, whose season ended last year in the semifinals in a 35-6 drubbing at Westminster.
That loss, which ended a 10-game winning streak, served as the catalyst for this season's run. Every trip to the weight room in the summertime, every practice in the fall and every hit in between have been about removing the taste of the Westminster loss.
"Last year, we saw some very special things happen, things that we never thought would happen in the first place," said Hale, who like Carmon, plays on both sides of the line.
"It [the Westminster loss] did influence this year. It personally influenced me, because I personally wanted to do better than I did last year. I knew that we had a lot of returning players coming back and I knew that we could achieve great things. It's all been hard work and we're all still working hard."
The nine returning defensive players, as well as Carmon, who transferred from Overlea, and former Douglass defensive back and receiver Sheldon Waller, gave the Knights an identity.
"Our defense speaks for itself," senior linebacker Dominick Roseborough said. "Every game, every practice, we just work hard. We just do the little things that count to stop teams. We watch film, stay focused, practice hard and listen to the coaches telling us what the other team is going to do. That way, we're prepared in the game for what they're going to do and how to stop it."
The Knights, who have allowed an average of 2.6 points per game, have seven shutouts this year to provide evidence of their defensive preparation. Oddly enough, though, the season kicked into high gear during the Patterson game when senior linebacker Earl Townes joined Roseborough in the starting offensive backfield because of an injury.
Townes, one of a small group of seniors who have played for Petrides for four years, ran for more than 200 yards and scored four times in the 36-0 victory, and he has remained in the backfield as a halfback ever since.
"I think he's quietly shown me that I made a mistake," Petrides said. "He has run as well as anybody that I've seen this year. He runs hard, he's got speed, but he would trade it all in just for a win. That's how he is."
The Knights have had a remarkable two-year run, but with the possibility of four more games left, they figure there are a few more hits left to be delivered.
"It's championship or nothing," Townes said. "If we don't win the states this year, then all of this meant nothing. The undefeated 10-0 season just went down the drain. It's almost like we have to win states this year."