Late in the evening on Oct. 30, Seneca Valley Coach Terry Changuris walked slowly through the rain toward his team's bus at Northwest High.
His Screaming Eagles had just lost to their neighborhood rival, 20-0, and the mood on the green and gold side of Germantown was somber. Seneca Valley had lost for the second time in three games, and, of more concern to Changuris, played poorly for the fourth time in a row.
At 5-2, the Screaming Eagles technically had a shot at the postseason, but the playoffs were the furthest thing from Changuris's mind.
"My only focus was to finish the year with two wins," Changuris said. "We'd fallen out of [The Post's] Top 20, and I couldn't have cared less. I just wanted to win two games and end the season on a positive note. If we got in the playoffs, great. If not, that was fine, too."
Changuris said that at that point in the season, he thought he had lost control of his team. But five days after the Northwest loss and a few hours before the Eagles' game against Paint Branch, Changuris held a team meeting that breathed life into the season.
After the meeting, Seneca Valley turned in its best performance to date. Against a 5-2 Paint Branch team that also needed a victory to remain in the playoff chase, the Screaming Eagles dominated in a 40-8 victory. Four days after that, they trounced Wootton, 41-7.
The Screaming Eagles then received the help they needed to secure the final spot in the Maryland 3A playoffs, by one-tenth of a point.
Now, after playoff victories over top-seeded Annapolis and fourth-seeded Calvert, Seneca Valley is in the state championship game for the 12th time and seventh time under Changuris. In the strangest of seasons -- one that included three weeks of indoor practices and postponements due to the sniper attacks in the area -- the Screaming Eagles are one game away from adding to their Maryland-record 11 state titles.
"It's like we've played three seasons," said Changuris, who has a career record of 148-29, including 36-7 in the postseason. "We had the beginning of the season where we played okay. Then there was the middle of the season where we couldn't beat anybody. Then, starting with Paint Branch . . . we played like the team I thought we could be."
A tough test awaits Seneca Valley in the 3A title game, which will be played at Ravens Stadium in Baltimore on at 7 p.m. Saturday. Linganore (10-2) won just three games last season but has experienced a rebirth under first-year coach Rick Conner.
Last year, Conner was the defensive coordinator for Urbana, which won a state title for the fourth year in a row. His team this year comes into the fianl on a five-game winning streak.
"They're like a mini-version of Urbana last year," Changuris said. "They run the same offense, the same defense and they do the same things on special teams. And they do it all very well."
Seneca Valley, meanwhile, has found balance on offense and a renewed intensity on defense. If the Screaming Eagles play as they have in recent weeks, the memories of two painful losses in the middle of the season, and that rainy night at Northwest, will be gone.
"I told the team that if we get to the state finals and win and we're celebrating at the 50-yard line, you're not going to worry about the two losses," said Changuris. "This would be extremely satisfying to see how far we've come."