“The Monday after the second game, after the Sherwood game, I kind of called all the kids together before practice and just said the reality is, our faith right now is being tested,” Nazzaro recalled. “If we can get this season turned around, we still have all our goals in front of us.”
[Complete playoff brackets can be found here.]
And Blake did, winning six of its next seven, with the only loss coming against No. 9 Seneca Valley (9-1) on October 12. In the process, the Bengals have leaned on senior quarterback Stefan Sigwalt (1,571 yards passing, 10 touchdowns), solidified an experienced defense (pitched two shutouts in late October to clinch the berth) and developed an explosive skill player in Marquis Robinson, who has scored 10 touchdowns this season at running back, wide receiver and kick returner.
“We just stayed motivated. I play with a whole bunch of guys that want it as bad as I do,” Blake linebacker Kevin Pharaon said. “We have a whole lot of respect for [Westminster]. I’m personally. . . not thinking of them as a number one seed. We’re going to play them just like we’ve played all these other teams. We’re going to put what we can on the table.”
The Owls present the toughest challenge to date. Blake’s loss to Einstein (6-4) in last week’s regular season finale didn’t help, said Nazzaro, who felt his team didn’t carry any sense of urgency because it had already clinched a playoff berth. Einstein’s Khalil Wilson ran for 189 yards on the Bengals, which blew a fourth-quarter lead in a 28-20 loss.
“We didn’t really approach our last game against Einstein, from a mental standpoint, the way we needed to,” Nazzaro said. “We already had the playoffs clinched and all week, people been congratulating us on making the playoffs. It’s just not about making it. We’re not just happy to be here.”
Maryland 4A East semifinal: South River at Old Mill, Friday, 7 p.m.
When third-seeded South River (8-2) travels to second-seeded Old Mill (8-2) on Friday night, it will mark the second time in as many seasons that the two teams have squared off in the regular season finale and 4A East semifinals in consecutive weeks.
Last year, the Patriots swept the two games by a combined score of 99-27 en route to claiming the state title and posting an undefeated record.
This year, South River has the chance to win back-to-back games after the Seahawks held off a late Old Mill rally to win 36-35 last Friday. South River jumped out to a 21-0 lead a week ago against the Patriots but allowed Old Mill to slowly make its way back into the game and even take a 35-28 lead in the fourth quarter.
The Seahawks escaped by relying on their most consistent offensive weapon this season: the connection between senior quarterback Connor Cox and senior wide receiver Eric Young, who has caught 21 of Cox’s 39 touchdown passes this season. Cox found Young in the end zone with less than two minutes left Friday night to bring the Seahawks to within one and put South River ahead for good on the subsequent play by scrambling into the end zone for a two-point conversion.