Lackey's football team looked in the mirror this week. Like crossing paths with a long-lost friend, the Chargers were a little confused. Who, exactly, is that team?
Sure, Lackey is the defending Southern Maryland Athletic Conference champion and has 15 starters returning from a team that advanced to the Maryland 3A final last year. But just how good are the Chargers this season?
"We're still trying to find out how good we are. This is our first big challenge," senior running back Morgan Green said of Lackey's home game against Northern tomorrow night.
Don't be swayed by the Chargers' 4-0 record and their 153-19 scoring advantage. Lackey's four opponents are a combined 0-15 and have rushed for a total of 56 yards against the Chargers.
Northern will show Lackey a balanced running game. Senior quarterback Andrew Athens and running backs A.J. Brown and Eugene Matullo led a 274-yard ground attack in last week's 50-0 victory over La Plata.
"We don't know what we're capable of because we haven't played anyone with players who can do the things we can do," Lackey senior lineman Jeremy Hairston said. "This is the week to showcase what we can do."
Last season, the Chargers rolled into their game at Northern with nearly identical numbers -- a 4-0 record and a 151-6 scoring edge. But the unheralded Patriots cruised to a 28-7 win.
While the Chargers say in retrospect that the loss brought them together and spurred their stirring second half of the season -- which included a 21-20 victory over Northern in a 3A South semifinal -- it still left a bad taste in their mouths.
It's no coincidence Lackey scheduled its Homecoming for this weekend.
"They're going to be up for us," Northern Coach A.J. Berberian said. "Lackey, in my opinion, is the best team in the conference until someone beats them."
But the Chargers have yet to convince themselves of that. They hope their turning point -- sort of what their loss to Northern did for them last year -- was their game against Great Mills two weeks ago. In a game they should have controlled from the onset, Lackey only led 13-6 late in the third quarter. At that point, both its veterans and newcomers realized that last year's success meant little this season.
Lackey scored two late touchdowns to pull away from Great Mills and last week against Leonardtown scored 30 first-half points to put away the Raiders early. The Chargers felt good that they were able to display that kind of dominance.
"We've played with less enthusiasm than last year," junior linebacker Bryan Gibbons said. "We might score a lot of points, but that doesn't mean we're playing that well.
"After that game [last year against Northern] we came together. Hopefully, it happened now against Great Mills. Last week, we finally brought it and it showed."
Calvert at McDonough
When: 7 p.m. tomorrow
Records: Calvert 0-4, 0-4 SMAC; McDonough 3-1, 3-1.
Last week: Calvert lost to Thomas Stone, 28-16; McDonough defeated Patuxent, 34-33.
Last meeting: McDonough won, 17-7, on Oct. 3.
Outlook: McDonough's season is alive and well after a thrilling victory at Patuxent, in which the Panthers erased a 26-7 first-half deficit and scored on a desperation Hail Mary pass at the end of regulation. But Rams junior A.J. Wallace prevented overtime by blocking the extra-point attempt. "That was a very critical win for us, to know we weren't stalling out like last year," McDonough Coach Dave Bradshaw said. Calvert, meantime, is taking pride in its four losses to teams that are a combined 15-1. "We've got to be the most positive 0-4 team in the country," Cavaliers Coach Ed Hottle said. "We've seen improvement every week, and [last week] we were able to move the ball a bit." Junior Donovan Harris rushed for a career-high 170 yards last week against Thomas Stone.
Chopticon at Thomas Stone
When: 7 p.m. tomorrow
Records: Chopticon 0-3, 0-3; Thomas Stone 4-0, 4-0.
Last week: Chopticon lost to Westlake, 48-14; Thomas Stone defeated Calvert, 28-16.
Last meeting: Thomas Stone won, 21-0, on Oct. 3.
Outlook: Chopticon has had enough bad luck to last an entire season, and it's only halfway over. After recovering from a thigh bruise, senior Matu Threatt threw a touchdown pass and also caught one in the first half last week against Westlake. Then, with the score tied at 14, an ankle injury forced Threatt out, ending the Braves' hopes. "When Matu went down, it took a lot of options out of our offense," Chopticon Coach Andy Palko said. Thomas Stone junior Patrick Swearinger had his best game of the season last week, rushing for 142 yards and scoring on four of his 13 carries. On 48 offensive touches this season, Swearinger has nine touchdowns.
When: 7 p.m. tomorrow
Records: Leonardtown 0-4, 0-4; Huntingtown 1-2, 1-2.
Last week: Leonardtown lost to Lackey, 36-0; Huntingtown defeated Great Mills, 25-6.
Last meeting: First meeting between the schools.
Outlook: Three weeks ago, Leonardtown nearly pulled off the biggest upset of the season before falling to McDonough, 32-27. The Raiders, however, have not shown much since then. They have managed just three points over the two subsequent weeks, largely because their top running back, sophomore Jaquan Shields, is limited by a broken wrist. As a result, freshman Michael Hebb was promoted from junior varsity, and the two have learned together on the job. Huntingtown, which scored just one touchdown on offense in its first two games, found a groove in the second half last week against Great Mills. The Hurricanes scored 19 straight points after battling to a 6-6 halftime tie. Senior Nathan Coates finished with 124 rushing yards and four touchdowns.
Westlake at Great Mills
When: 7 p.m. tomorrow
Records: Westlake 4-0, 4-0; Great Mills 0-4, 0-4.
Last week: Westlake defeated Chopticon, 48-14; Great Mills lost to Huntingtown, 25-6.
Last meeting: Westlake won, 56-7, on Oct. 3.
Outlook: Great Mills knew it would have trouble scoring on Lackey and Thomas Stone, two of the best defenses in the SMAC. But the Hornets managed just six points combined against McDonough and Huntingtown, which have given up an average of 24 points per game to their other opponents. The Hornets' biggest problem is that opponents are holding onto the ball and putting together sustained drives. "You can't run 27, 28 plays on offense and expect to win too many games," Great Mills Coach Bill Greer said. Too many dropped passes are forcing Great Mills to rely on its running game, and opponents have responded by sending nine defenders into the box. The Hornets had their best game against Lackey, trailing the defending SMAC champion 13-6 in the final minute of the third quarter two weeks ago. Greer hopes a similarly talented Westlake team will bring out the same in his players.
Patuxent at La Plata
When: 2 p.m. Saturday
Records: Patuxent 1-3, 1-3; La Plata 3-1, 3-1.
Last week: Patuxent lost to McDonough, 34-33; La Plata lost to Northern, 50-0.
Last meeting: Patuxent won, 40-0, on Oct. 3.
Outlook: Patuxent has the same record it had after four games last season, 1-3, even though that might be a poor reflection of the Panthers' abilities. They lost in overtime to Westlake on Sept. 10 and could not capitalize on the final play of the game after erasing a 19-point deficit last week against McDonough. "We could very well be 3-1 right now," Panthers Coach Steve Crounse said. "The kids showed so much heart and determination coming back from 26-7 [against McDonough], it was unbelievable." Leading the way was quarterback Delonte Janey, who had career highs of 22 completions, 282 yards and three touchdown passes. He also ran for 66 yards. This is La Plata's Homecoming game, so the Warriors should play more aggressively than last week, when Northern pushed them around for 274 yards on the ground.