Thomas Stone linebacker Mike Farland had a personal goal Friday night as his team waged a defensive battle with visiting Randallstown in the Maryland 3A semifinals. He wanted to ensure that the Cougars did not blow a chance to play for the state championship next weekend.
Farland met his goal. He recorded 11 tackles, including what might have been a game-saving tackle early in the second half, and seemed to be everywhere on the field in No. 10 Thomas Stone's 16-7 victory over Randallstown.
Farland's biggest tackle came on the Rams' first possession of the third quarter, when Thomas Stone clung to a 9-7 lead. Running back Davon Johnson broke free and would have scored if Farland hadn't caught him. Instead, Johnson settled for a 21-yard gain on a drive that ended with an interception on the goal line.
"In the beginning of the season, we weren't known as a playoff team, but we have a lot of heart," Farland said. "We don't have a lot of big guys on defense, [and] most of our big-play guys aren't that big. I couldn't think about who we might play next week. All I could do was focus on this game. I was thinking that I had to get it done."
Farland, a senior, also plays tight end for the Cougars but clearly made a bigger contribution Friday in the center of the defense, where he and fellow senior linebacker Marcus Whalen prevented the Rams' running backs from reaching the secondary and open field beyond.
Thomas Stone, which has allowed 95 points in 12 games this season (while scoring 355), faced Randallstown's wing-T offense Friday. It was a lot like the offense run by Westlake--Thomas Stone's opponent the previous two weeks--so the coaches didn't make many changes during the week.
"We knew they ran the wing-T and the power-I," Farland said. "We made a few adjustments and put in some stunts, like we did against Westlake, trying to get in the backfield to then read where the ballcarrier is going."
Those adjustments helped hold Randallstown's offense to 178 total yards, including 33 yards passing and two interceptions. Farland was the Cougars defender who greeted the Rams' three running backs when they crossed the line of scrimmage.
"We are coached extremely well," Farland said. "They put us in the right positions and situations for the team we're playing."
With the victory, Thomas Stone advanced to Saturday's 3A final against No. 1 Seneca Valley. Although the Cougars have attracted attention with their running attack--All-Met Marcus Whalen has 1,849 rushing yards this season--defense has carried them to this point.
On Saturday, that defense will line up at Byrd Stadium, with a chance to lock up the first state football title in Thomas Stone history. It will be the school's second state final appearance; the other came in 1980.
"Right now, I feel awesome," Farland said. "This is the best feeling I've ever had."