As afternoon turned to evening and the sun and temperatures sunk Wednesday night, the C.H. Flowers football team ran through coverage after coverage. On pass play after pass play, the ball disappeared into near-darkness, the only indication of the success of the defensive effort coming from instructions barked from coaches or hoots and hollering from frigid second-teamers hunched from the cold and jumping in place to stay warm.
Flowers (7-0) can’t afford to shorten its practices with fall’s shortening days, because the Jaguars’ schedule is finally heating up. After a 6-4 season last year, the Jaguars burst out of the gates this year and haven’t looked back — but they also have yet to play a team with a winning record. That changes Saturday night, when Flowers takes on fellow unbeaten No. 6 Suitland (7-0) in the first of three straight games against Prince George’s 4A elite.
“I guess we’re about to find out if we’re for real,” said Flowers Coach Mike Mayo, whose team holds not only its playoff fortunes in its hands over the next three weeks, but those of other teams: after Suitland, Flowers takes on No. 17 DuVal (6-1) and defending-state champs Wise (4-3), a team fighting desperately for its playoff life. The Jaguars have ratcheted up their preparation in correlation with the elevated intensity of their schedule.
“When we go in the weight room, we’re hitting the weights a lot harder. When we practice, we’re running a lot harder than we usually do,” said senior lineman Isaiah McLin, motioning to the shadowy forms of his still-running teammates behind him. “We’re in the mindset that we won’t be defeated.”
The idea of the Flowers defense getting even faster and stronger is a scary one for Prince George’s playoff hopefuls given that the Jaguars have allowed an average of under five points per game in six games this season (excluding a forfeit win over Bowie). Offensively, a powerful offensive line has cleared the way for a backfield using a several-headed running attack that’s helped Flowers average 42 points per game in those six games.
At 4-3, Friendly (3-2 Prince George’s 3A/2A/1A) is currently on the outside looking in at the 2A South playoff picture. But like Flowers, the Patriots will have a hand in other teams’ playoff destinies as they try to salvage their own. Surrattsville (6-1, 5-1 ) and Forestville (5-2) currently stand first and second in the Maryland 1A North playoff standings, and Friendly plays them in consecutive weeks, starting with Surrattsville Saturday. Then, the Patriots move on to Gwynn Park (7-0, 5-0), likely the largest speed bump left on the Yellow Jackets’ road to an undefeated season.
Friendly showed last week it has the potential to disrupt the plans of all three teams, exploding for 70 points against Fairmont Heights (0-7, 0-5) behind two touchdown catches from Stanford-bound Alameen Murphy and 287 passing yards from quarterback Tyreke Smith, who threw for four touchdowns on 13 of 21 passing and ran for two more.