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Johnson was ineligible for the first four games of the season, and teammates expected him to be a bit slow in his first game back. He'd need time, they figured, to adjust to the pace of the game.

Turned out the pace had to adjust to him.

Johnson whizzed by defenders, returning a punt 40 yards for a touchdown and making several key receptions in a come-from-behind, 35-32 win over Annapolis last weekend. The shifty senior is known for speed -- he runs the 40-yard dash in 4.3 seconds -- but against the Panthers he surprised even his own coach.

"About all I can say is, 'Wow,' " Arundel Coach Chuck Markiewicz said. "He's like a human pinball machine. He can make anybody miss."

He made 10 players miss during his punt return, which brought Arundel back within three points late in the fourth quarter. Johnson broke away from three defenders, then ran around seven others. A handful of teammates followed Johnson to the end zone and, in celebration, they finally succeeded in tackling him.

"It's my job to make people miss," Johnson said. "It feels so good to be doing that again. I know this team needs me. My plan is just to do what I do, and that's going to help us win."

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In a 55-25 win over Glen Burnie, he carried the ball only 15 times. Five of those turned into touchdowns.

A speedy, two-sport athlete, Atwell has always thrived as a playmaker. He'd never made as many plays in one stretch, though, as he did last weekend. Four of his touchdowns came on runs longer than 15 yards.

"It might have been my best game ever," Atwell said. "The offensive line made it pretty easy. The holes were just wide open. After the game, I thanked all my linemen. I wouldn't be anything without those guys."

Atwell's theme this season has been to take advantage of the opportunities he missed last year, when he sat out eight games with a broken ankle. So far, he's exceeded his own expectations: In addition to running the ball, he's made three interceptions as a safety.

"I'm happy with how things are going," Atwell said. "Above all, it just feels good to be healthy. I think I'm stronger than ever, and that's a great feeling."

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After his team's loss to Arundel last weekend, Annapolis Coach Brian Brown huddled his players together and said: "Forget about this game. We've got Broadneck next, and that's enough to deal with."

It might actually be too much. Through four games, nobody has come close to challenging the Bruins, one of Anne Arundel's two undefeated teams along with Old Mill. Broadneck's toughest test yet came two weeks ago against Arundel, and the Bruins won, 38-0. "I'm very pleased with the offense," Broadneck Coach Jeff Herrick said then. "It's clicking on all cylinders."

To combat that, Brown has devised a simple strategy: Don't let Broadneck's offense touch the ball. Annapolis, traditionally a run-heavy team, will try to eat up the clock with long, methodical drives.

Just as important for Annapolis, though, will be forgetting the loss to Arundel. The Panthers controlled the game, leading by as many as 20 points before Arundel stormed back.

"We have to move on fast," Brown said. "How are we going to react after our first loss? That's always a big test."

-- Eli Saslow

Southern senior Bobby Atwell.