After three games this season, Douglass High School's entry in the Prince George's County 3A football standings was perfect: The Eagles had three wins and no losses, scoring 101 points and allowing none.
A week later, after a loss to Fairmont Heights, Douglass's coaches and players are facing an uncomfortable fact: They might have had to remain perfect to have a shot at the state playoffs this season.
Douglass--which lost, 18-8, to the Hornets last Saturday--was 9-1 last season, its only loss to undefeated and eventual Maryland 3A champion Friendly. Still, the Eagles failed to qualify for the postseason because its opponents did not win many games, giving Douglass few bonus points in the state's playoff qualification system.
With that in mind, the Eagles came into this season with a motto of "10-0 and We Go." Also, Coach Bill Johnson tried to schedule better opponents, in hopes they would finish with better records and give Douglass more bonus points.
"Everybody on the team knows if we go 8-2 or 9-1, then we might not go" to the playoffs, linebacker Parish Holmes said before the loss to Fairmont Heights. "If we lose one, we know the chances are slim."
Saturday, the Eagles lost in part because of turnovers. They had committed just one in their first three games, but had four--leading to two touchdowns--against Fairmont Heights.
"We didn't resemble the team we were in the first three weeks," Johnson said. "We had played with a lot of passion and we didn't play with a lot of passion. It was a concern all week and it was a struggle all week in practice. . . . I was extremely worried on Friday. All week, it had been building. I kept hoping the light would go on and we would recognize the situation and what was at stake."
After one loss soured the Eagles' season last year, Johnson saw what was at stake in the offseason and tried to do something about it. A tougher schedule might have given the 1998 Douglass team more leeway to lose one game.
"I called all [of last season's] 3A playoff teams, Bel Air, Eastern Tech, Wilde Lake, Westlake. Anybody who made the playoffs instead of us, we called to see if we could play them."
It was difficult finding opponents--Douglass ended with games against Linganore, Northern and Meade--and in the process, the Eagles had to accept playing seven road games this season. Their home opener is not until Oct. 9 against DuVal.
However, Douglass had made itself comfortable on the road prior to the loss to Fairmont Heights. Halfbacks Lambert Watts, Mike Harris and Derek Dougans combined with fullback Jeff Wiggins to form a talented wishbone backfield. Quarterback Aaron Butler, a halfback last season, had completed 5 of 7 passes, four for touchdowns.
"When you run as much as we do," Johnson said, "any kind of play action has a tendency to be effective. When we go back to throw the ball, it is a shock to everybody."
The strong start, particularly on defense, had been a surprise.
"We had given no indication in our [preseason] scrimmages that we would play at this level," Johnson said. "We had not been impressive."
Defensive ends Reggie Sealy and Eric Garrison and linebacker Sean Merriman had played well defensively, with free safety Jason Gray snuffing out big plays.
But turnovers hurt Douglass against Fairmont Heights. Now the Eagles must regroup for Saturday's game at Potomac (3-1).
"Potomac may be the best team we play this year, period," Johnson said. "I've had scouts out to see them a couple times and that's their read on Potomac. They can run and throw the ball well. Their quarterback [DuJuan Crockett] can run and throw the ball well. On defense, they are very aggressive and they get a lot of people to the football. We're going to face a team that is physically bigger and stronger than we are, so we have to be fundamentally sound."
CAPTION: Douglass Coach Bill Johnson confers during loss to Fairmont Heights.
CAPTION: Douglass's Eric Garrison closes in on Fairmont Heights quarterback Keino Thomas, whose pass fell incomplete. Thomas led Hornets to 18-8 victory.
CAPTION: Douglass's Lambert Watts speeds upfield with reception as Fairmont Heights's James Taylor pursues.
CAPTION: Fairmont Heights's Marcus Henry (55) hovers as teammate Jasper Womble, right, and Douglass's Aaron Butler scramble for football.