When Gwynn Park senior Anthony Herbin dashed through the Long Reach defense for an 80-yard kickoff return Saturday, he pretty much demonstrated why no Howard County team advanced beyond the first round of the state football playoffs.
"Speed -- that's the difference," Glenelg Coach John Davis said. "There's no question: Teams from Prince George's County are just faster than we are, and I think that showed in all three losses."
Long Reach, River Hill and Glenelg all lost first-round games last weekend.
Douglass orchestrated three touchdown runs longer than 35 yards to end River Hill's season, and Friendly's Michael Shaw ran the opening kickoff back 85 yards to take the lead for good against Glenelg.
"Speed is our asset, and we came in here and we're going to use it," Friendly Coach George Earley said. "We knew our speed was going to give them problems."
Still, Howard teams showed improvement over last year, when Prince George's County teams outscored them 107-51 in three postseason games.
River Hill led midway through the third quarter against Douglass on Saturday before falling, 36-26, in a 3A East Region game -- a year after the Hawks lost to Gwynn Park by four touchdowns.
Long Reach led Gwynn Park by six in a 3A East Region game before the Yellow Jackets scored with 1 minute 30 seconds left to pull out a 20-19 victory.
Glenelg fell behind by 19 but staged a furious, fourth-quarter comeback before losing, 25-20, in a 2A South Region game.
"Last year, Howard County took it on the chin, but since then they have gotten better, and nothing was easy for us out there," said Douglass Coach J.C. Pinkney. "They fixed some things to get better after last year, but we came in here confident that we could run the ball on them, and that's what we did."
River Hill prepared for Douglass's option attack by having reserves run plays from the Eagles' offense in practice. But the reserves didn't run as fast as the bigger Eagles the starters faced on Saturday.
Douglass rushed for 425 yards and four touchdowns on 41 carries, as four Eagles rushed for at least 50 yards -- led by junior quarterback Davon Gray (9 carries, 132 yards, 3 touchdowns). Douglass threw one pass, incomplete.
"It seemed like every time they scored, it was on a big run where they would just get past the line [of scrimmage] and we couldn't catch them," said River Hill senior linebacker Ryan Deiter. "They were the fastest team we've seen all year."
Glenelg's starting running back, senior Trey Crayton, spent last week running Friendly's plays against the starting defense in practice.
"Since I'm our fastest guy, the coaches thought it was a good idea to put me on the scout team so our defense could try to stop someone who is fast," Crayton said. "I thought in the game they did a good job because it was a real dog fight out there, and there was just a few times where we couldn't contain them."
Long Reach didn't make any major adjustments in preparation for the undefeated Yellow Jackets because Coach Pete Hughes was confident his team was just as good as the defending region champions.
Long Reach sophomore running back Keith Richardson, one of county's fastest players, rushed for 110 yards and two touchdowns and returned a kickoff 90 yards against a Gwynn Park defense that had allowed just four rushing touchdowns in the regular season.
"I honestly believed that we outplayed them and we should have won the game, and no one even thought we should have been on the same field as Gwynn Park," Hughes said. "We fumbled once on their 5-yard line, and other than the kickoff they returned for a touchdown, we outplayed them. But they made one or two more big plays than we did, and that cost us the game."
River Hill, Long Reach and Glenelg players had hoped to report for practice Monday to prepare for region finals, but instead they met to turn in uniforms and equipment.
"I was hoping I wouldn't have to go to wrestling practice for a few more weeks," said Deiter, who joined his winter sports team for the first day of practice Monday. "We didn't come here to try to get a moral victory. We wanted to win this game and win the state championship just as much as everyone else. Every team will feel the way we do right now except for one team [in each classification], because every team is going to lose the last game they play except for the team that wins the state championship."