At fourth and goal from the one yard line, Annapolis was going for it Friday night. A recovered fumble at the Northeast 20 and a series of runs put the Panthers in position to score first, and Coach Brian Brown wanted to take advantage.
"It was very important" for the Panthers to score, Brown said. "When you get turnovers you have to push it in."
So Brown took a timeout to remind his team about a similar situation against Northeast last season. The Panthers were in a fourth-and-short situation in the fourth quarter, and a first down would have allowed time to expire. The Panthers didn't get that first down, and Northeast scored on the ensuing drive to win the game.
"Do you want the same thing to happen that happened last year?" Brown asked his players on the field. The confident response came from senior left tackle Trayvon Belt, who urged the coach to have the team run the ball. The team lined up, got down and surged forward, giving senior running back Errol Silva the room he needed to step into the end zone.
"All of us got real low," said junior center Jon Schwartz. "I think that play was about how the offense really stuck together and got it done when we needed to."
Annapolis's offensive line was a key component in the 22-8 win over Northeast, just as linemen have been important throughout the county in the first weeks of the football season.
One of the most overlooked units in football, the offensive line is vital to a team's success.
Said Brown, "You can take the best running backs in the world, but with no line it's still not a good team."
Panthers senior running back Damien Kinchen credits the line with his success again Friday, when he rushed for 108 yards on 20 carries.
"It makes me feel good" when the backs have good nights, Belt said. "I know what I did helped them get free. My blocks help give them a better opportunity to go to college."
"You can't be a good running back without a good line," said Kinchen, one of the most talented backs in the county last season, when he rushed for more than 800 yards and 10 touchdowns. "Once you get that first push, it's all on you.
"They [the linemen] have the biggest role. They have to work hard all night."
Those thoughts are echoed by Old Mill senior Bryant Watkins, a right tackle, and senior running back Ryan Callahan, who rushed 14 times for 200 yards and four touchdowns Friday.
"I like blocking for [Callahan] because he's not the type of guy who's running and it's all about him," Watkins said. "He knows there's five, six guys blocking in front of him. I feel like I took part in his 200 yards."
Callahan acknowledged that Watkins was crucial to at least one of his touchdown runs, where Callahan followed Watkins up the field and watched him clear the way.
"He made the key block, and I cut off that," Callahan said. "If it wasn't for that block I would've gotten tackled."
Spalding senior Mike Whittles, who is a running back and linebacker, knows the role offensive linemen play as well. But he also knows how hard they work to fulfill that role. At least once a week, instead of joining the running backs for drills, Whittles joins the linemen as part of his training as a linebacker.
"The line definitely works harder," said Whittles, who ran for about 800 yards last year and has more than 200 yards this season in three games. "The line works harder than anybody."
Whittles and other high school backs sometimes show their appreciation with words of encouragement, gifts and meals and joke about the rewards professional athletes give to their line.
"If I was in the NFL and could buy them Rolexes and cars and stuff, I would," Whittles said.
After a victory and what he thought was a great performance by the line last season, Annapolis assistant coach Mitch Suplee invited the line to his house for a cookout to show the players that hard work does pay off.
Spalding coaches also take their linemen out to eat after good performances, including one all-they-could-eat chicken wings session last season.
Food is fine, but this position generally gets less recognition than others do. Still, Rob Ciancaglini, a junior who plays center for Broadneck, said last week, "none of us signed up to play line for glory. We get our thrills out of putting somebody on their butt no matter if one person saw it or nobody saw it. We get thrills out of knocking out someone and watching our backs run down the field. It's always good to have a big play bust open, but when you can just drive the ball down the field with the run game, that's more degrading to a defense than anything."
A pancake block is exciting but not as exciting as when a lineman scores. Said Spalding senior lineman Adam Higuera, "It's all of our dreams."
Higuera didn't have his dream come true Friday, but Spalding right guard Joe McHale, a junior, did. He picked up a fumbled punt return against Edgewood and took it 16 yards for the score.
"When linemen score they do go crazy, everyone went crazy," said Spalding Coach Mike Whittles. "He was just beaming, it's what makes high school football fun. It's something he'll remember for the rest of his life and tell his kids about."