Never mind that it was played on a Monday night just three weeks into the season. Thomas Stone's 21-7 victory over Patuxent this week was one of the biggest that Cougars Coach Steve Lindsay can remember.
"In the four years I've been here leading this program, that's got to be there right at the top," Lindsay said.
After opening the season with modest victories over Leonardtown and Great Mills, teams in the Southern Maryland Athletic Conference, including the Cougars themselves, wondered just how good Thomas Stone is. With a commanding victory over one of the more talented teams in the SMAC, the Cougars showed that the program's depth and skill can appear in many ways.
Entering this season, the Cougars lost to graduation players who accounted for 90 percent of their yards from scrimmage and scored all but two of their offensive touchdowns last season.
Thomas Stone (3-0 overall, 3-0 SMAC), however, did not have a drop-off in talent because it resides in one of the most fertile pools of talent in the area. But don't let that fool you.
This year's team has a different style, and its game plan against Patuxent(1-2, 1-2) capitalized on that. The Cougars don't have the game-breakers who have dotted their roster, such as Antonio Lewis, Xavier Davis, Jimari Jones and Frankie Warren.
Instead, the Cougars administered a perfect game plan, in which they broke a 7-7 halftime tie by controlling the ball for 17 minutes 13 seconds of the second half. Junior Tanner Mills gained 78 yards on 24 carries running primarily outside the tackles. Senior fullback Scott Carroll bullied his way behind standout senior center Greg Rhoades for 59 yards on 11 carries.
"If anyone said that someone's going to get worn down in the second half," Lindsay said, "it would have been us" they were talking about.
Only twice did Thomas Stone gain more than nine yards on a play from scrimmage -- a 13-yard run by Mills and a 22-yard pass to junior Patrick Swearinger.
"In the past, we haven't driven the ball like this," said assistant coach Patrick Hoiler, who guides the Cougars' undersized but fundamentally strong offensive line. "You know, it would be a 60-yard pass to Xavier [Davis] or 50-yard plays by Antonio [Lewis]. We tell them now that if you get three yards four times, you've got a first down."
Each play might not be pretty, but a 16-play, 58-yard drive that covered nearly eight minutes in the first half was efficient, and it resulted in Thomas Stone's first touchdown, a five-yard run by Carroll. On that drive, the Cougars converted all three fourth-and-1 opportunities.
"There's a great attitude here," Carroll said.
And it will only be encouraged by this victory. Lindsay knows a loss could have sent his team into a tailspin.
"If you go play your first big game and you lose, you begin to doubt [yourself]," Lindsay said. "But you get a win, and it clicks. I'm not saying we've turned a corner, but this is big."