Seneca Valley at Calvert
When: 7 p.m. Friday
What: Maryland 3A football semifinal
Records: Seneca Valley 8-2; Calvert 9-2
Coaches: Seneca Valley, Terry Changuris (147-29 in 15 seasons); Calvert, Brad Criss (17-3 in 2 seasons)
History: The teams have never met. Seneca Valley's last game against a team from the Southern Maryland Athletic Conference was a 41-0 win over Thomas Stone in the 1999 state championship.
Road to the semifinals: Seneca Valley, the No. 8 seed, defeated top-seeded Annapolis, 35-13, in its quarterfinal match; Calvert, the No. 4 seed, defeated fifth-seeded Gwynn Park, 37-0.
Setting the scene: The winner of this game advances to the Maryland 3A state final the weekend of Nov. 29 at Ravens Stadium in Baltimore.
To date, Calvert's playoff record is flawless. The Cavaliers' only other trip to the playoffs, in 2000, resulted in Calvert County's only state football title. But Seneca Valley has a much richer football tradition. The Screaming Eagles have made 18 post-season appearances, winning the championship a state-record 11 times.
"I would imagine there is some mystique about our team, but it's something I don't think about," Changuris said. "It seemed to work last week [against Annapolis], though, because if we get ahead early, a team may start to think, 'Here's Seneca Valley, here we go again.' "
Criss said that his coaching staff is well aware of the Screaming Eagles' history but that he is unsure if his players are as familiar with it.
"I don't think our players do know," Criss said. "And if they did, I don't think they would be intimidated by that stuff. They would see it as a challenge more than an intimidation."
Outlook: Calvert's players are feeding off the underdog role, and for the second consecutive week, it's an easy sell for Criss.
"I've always said I wanted to play Seneca Valley," longtime Calvert assistant Jim Donahue said. "I guess now it's, 'Be careful what you wish for.' "
The teams appear very similar. Both have dropped two games this season, with Calvert's losses coming to Largo and Patuxent and Seneca Valley's to Gaithersburg and Northwest. Calvert is scoring an average of 31.9 points per game, and its defense is yielding 13.0, limiting its past three opponents to a combined total of 12 points. Seneca Valley's numbers are nearly identical, averaging 31.1 points per game while giving up just 12.3.
"I think they're the best team we've played against since I've been the coach," Criss said. "We have played against some teams that were bigger and some that were faster, but they are the best overall. And a lot of that has to do with Seneca Valley being so disciplined. They don't make mistakes."
The game also will feature two of the Washington area's best running backs. Calvert senior Dervon Wallace ranks fifth in the area, with 1,659 yards and 16 touchdowns on 160 carries, an average of 10.4 yards per carry. Seneca Valley senior Justin Warren stands sixth, with 1,570 yards and a school-record 23 touchdowns.
Because both teams boast solid run defenses, this game could be determined by which team does a better job of passing it, and that should favor the Cavaliers. Seniors Joe Procopio and Taros Harris share QB duties, but Procopio does most of the passing. Last week, he completed nine of 14 passes for 131 yards and two touchdowns.
Procopio should have room to work deep with speedsters Harris, Wallace and senior Jerome Brooks against a Seneca Valley secondary that has proven vulnerable to big plays.
"They are one of the most explosive teams I've ever seen," Changuris said. "They rely on big plays, and they get them. [Wallace] has breakaway speed, and you have to tackle him or else he can hit you for a big run. And their passing game can beat you downfield, too."
Though Seneca Valley has posted similar yards passing, it has gained them in much smaller chunks. QB Brandon Chapman has completed 41 of 88 passes for 545 yards, with two interceptions and five touchdowns. The Cavaliers have combined for 25 interceptions this season, led by Brooks's eight picks and six each by Harris and senior linebacker Dane Donnelly.
"Calvert's secondary is one of the best I've ever seen in my life," Changuris said. "They don't have just one guy back there, they have three or four back there who can all get it done."
They don't, however, have nearly the experience or the tradition of Seneca Valley, which will give them their underdog status.
"You just ask anybody who didn't see [the quarterfinal] games who's going to win this game and they'll say Seneca, no question," Criss said. "So we go in the underdog at home again, and you gotta like that.
"Last week [against Gwynn Park], I felt we played as close to a perfect game as we have since I've been here. And we're ready for the semifinals. Our players are buzzing, our school is buzzing, and I don't think anyone can wait until Friday."