Players called it a storybook ending. Coaches called it a storybook beginning.
With a last-second field goal Friday night, Severna Park beat previously undefeated Broadneck, 29-27, signaling both the dramatic end to the Falcons's regular season and the dramatic beginning to their postseason.
Severna Park (7-3) needed a win to qualify for the playoffs. So, when Jonathan Hartman hit a 32-yard field goal as time expired, he set off a celebration unlike any other that Falcons Coach J.P. Hines had seen. Severna Park players cried on the sideline, wrestled each other to the ground on Broadneck's field and dumped ice water on coaches.
Then Hines pulled them into the locker room and told them they had nothing to celebrate. "We need to understand," Hines said, "that the playoffs haven't even started. We haven't done anything yet."
That's the thing about the playoffs: A team spends an entire season just hoping to get there; then it has to realize that getting there doesn't matter.
It's a difficult, psychological transition, and some teams get lost in the simple if-then process. If you spend too much time reveling over a good regular season, then you'll underprepare for the postseason. If you underprepare for the postseason, then your season will be over.
"You have to treat the playoffs as an entirely fresh start," Southern Coach Russ Meyers said. "You have to forget about everything else and just start over. In the playoffs, your slate is wiped clean."
That means something different for each of the five county teams scheduled to compete next weekend: Broadneck, Old Mill, Arundel, Severna Park and Southern. For Broadneck (9-1), it means recovering from its first loss of the season, one that ended a 28-game county winning streak. For Arundel (7-3), it means forgetting a dramatic, 35-26 win over South River on Friday, a game that knocked the Seahawks out of the playoffs.
"Nothing matters now, except for this weekend," Broadneck Coach Jeff Herrick said. "Winning in the playoffs is a totally different ball game."
And Anne Arundel coaches agree that it requires specific characteristics. To win in the playoffs, they say, a team must grade highly in three categories:
Experience. Talent. Resolve.