Sherwood Coach Al Thomas admits there will be a moment or two at Seneca Valley tomorrow night when he can wax nostalgic over the days he roamed the opposite sideline.
Thomas returns to No. 12 Seneca Valley for the first time since 1987, when he led the Screamin' Eagles to an undefeated season and, notably, current Seneca Valley Coach Fred Kim was a starting defensive back. Thomas was the first coach at Seneca Valley, taking over the fledgling program when the school opened in 1974 and leading them to five state titles.
But the coach in Thomas sees the game for what it is: one that pits two undefeated teams in one of the area's most anticipated matchups this season. A year after leading the No. 10 Warriors into the playoffs, Thomas has his team shaping out the way most of his teams tend to -- state-title contenders.
The Warriors (4-0) are averaging 48.5 points per game this season. And unlike last year, where they primarily utilized a spread offense and relied almost exclusively on the arm of junior quarterback Deontay Twyman, Sherwood's once non-existent running game appears to be one of its biggest strengths.
Brian Gunderman (31 carries, 221 yards, seven touchdowns) is back after missing the second half of last season due to injury. Throw running backs Andral Joly and Damond Merritt into the mix (390 rushing yards combined), and opponents have yet to slow down Sherwood's ground game.
"One of the reasons we're better this year is we can run the ball better," Thomas said. "All three of them are very good running backs. Gunderman has this great vision. He can be running and make a lateral cut on a dime. He's a tough little sucker to pin down."
Thomas said his biggest concern is that unlike Sherwood, Seneca Valley (4-0) has been tested this season.
Before rolling to a 50-0 win over Kennedy last week, the Screamin' Eagles pulled out a 14-7 victory over reigning 3A champion Northwest and a 7-0 win over Churchill on consecutive weeks.
Seneca Valley has also thrived behind a dominant running game. Senior T.J. Radzilowski and junior Shawn Perry have developed into one of the more talented backfields in the county, combining for 671 rushing yards and five touchdown.
Meanwhile, the Screamin' Eagles defense has proven stingy through four games this season, yielding just 14 points thus far and shutting out Kennedy and Churchill over the past two weeks.
"Honestly, I think we're a little overrated right now," Thomas said. "We still have games against Seneca, Damascus and Gaithersburg. It'll be good to see if we can keep it up."
Leaving a Mark
From afterthought to sudden contender, No. 18 Quince Orchard has undergone a radical transformation in the four years that Coach Dave Mencarini has been with the program. Coming off a season in which the Cougars finished 8-3 and ended an 11-year playoff drought, they have rolled to a 4-0 start after beating Whitman, 27-14, last week.
Now, for the second year in a row, the Cougars find themselves in another measuring-stick game against second-ranked Damascus (4-0) when they host the Swarmin' Hornets tomorrow night. Last year, the two teams also entered the game undefeated before Damascus walked away with a 26-20 victory.
With Quince Orchard's only other regular season loss coming to Northwest last year -- a 21-14 defeat -- the sentiment was that the Cougars were on the brink of joining the county's elite. A win over Damascus, the 2003 champion that reached the 4A final last season, would bolster its case.
"Last year, we were both 5-0 going into the Damascus game and it was a tight ball game," said Mencarini, an assistant for two years at Quince Orchard before taking over last season. "The good thing is our kids have been in this game in the past. We played Damascus and Northwest last year, and this year we've fought through some injuries. We're confident in our kids."