Lackey's Aaron Smith thought he might have been the only high school quarterback who couldn't get anyone's attention. Then he considered Westlake's Buck Smith and realized he had company.
"Yeah, it's funny how a lot of people didn't really notice me too much," Aaron Smith said.
Tomorrow's Maryland 3A South Region final at Lackey will be the fourth time in 12 months the fifth-ranked Chargers (11-0) have faced the Wolverines (9-2). While it would seem there is nothing these teams don't know about each other, this game will offer a new wrinkle -- a heightened focus on both quarterbacks.
In the past, both offenses were so run-oriented -- Lackey's was led by All-Met Morgan Green, and Westlake's wing-T featured Aaris Reed and Pha'Terrell Washington this season -- that both quarterbacks were merely complementary pieces of the game plan.
Now, however, with Green likely to miss what amounts to his fifth straight game with a hamstring injury and Reed and Washington struggling with ankle injuries suffered in a loss to Lackey two weeks ago, both quarterbacks will be thrust into the spotlight.
"We're going to have to rely more on Aaron, and that's not necessarily a bad thing," Chargers senior lineman Jeremy Hairston said. "I think putting that added pressure on him will make him play better."
While both quarterbacks may not throw much more than usual, their responsibilities are much bigger.
"When the play is called into the huddle, I get to tell three running backs what to do," said Buck Smith, a senior and three-year starter. "It's more of a coaching role, and that's why I have to listen to Coach [Dominic Zaccarelli] even more. . . . On a third and three or third and four, it's usually a run, but now it's probably a pass because we just don't have the same kind of talent in the backfield."
That talent not only affects each team's ability to run. It trickles down through every other aspect of the offense.
"Another focus is protecting the quarterback," Westlake senior lineman Derrell Jones said, "because you know they're going to go after Buck. It's hard because we're used to having Aaris and Pha'Terrell as an extra guy to pick up someone."
In last week's regional semifinals, both quarterbacks showed they could make big throws downfield in critical situations.
Playing in his first postseason game, Aaron Smith completed just eight of his first 19 passes against McDonough and threw three interceptions -- as many as he had thrown during the regular season. Yet Smith completed three of four passes for 53 yards -- including a 29-yard strike to Greg Bowman on third and eight -- on Lackey's eight-play, 62-yard drive, which culminated in a 19-yard scoring toss to Bryan Gibbons that gave Lackey a 10-3 victory.
"He keeps an even keel," Lackey Coach Scott Chadwick said of his quarterback. "That's one of his biggest strengths on the field. He doesn't get rattled. After throwing three interceptions, he throws his best pass of the season followed by a nice touchdown pass. A lot of kids may not be able to overcome three interceptions."
Buck Smith had also struggled in Westlake's losses to McDonough and Lackey the last two weeks of the regular season, completing less than half his passes and throwing four interceptions.
But on Westlake's first possession of the second half and leading Severna Park 14-7, Smith faced a fourth and 13 at the Falcons 30. With three receivers lined up to the right, Smith kept his poise against a blitz and fired a perfect pass that senior Mark McKinnon caught in stride near the goal line, a good five yards ahead of the nearest defender.
Not only was the pass a credit to Smith's arm strength and accuracy, but it also showed how he is adjusting to not having Reed and Washington there to block.
"They're blitzing outside because our backups don't know how to block as well," he said. "I've had to learn to get rid of the ball quicker."