Glenelg Coach John Davis said the numbers speak for themselves. His offense has snapped the ball 191 times this season, rushing 183 times for 1,596 yards, an average of 8.7 yards per carry. The Gladiators are undefeated through four games after a 56-13 victory over Reservoir on Saturday, when they rushed for 478 yards and seven touchdowns and senior quarterback Billy West threw just one pass.
"Why should we change who we are?" Davis said. "Running the ball is what we do, and no one has stopped us. Teams are throwing eight, nine, 10 guys around the line of scrimmage, and we're still running the ball. Why throw the ball? That's when bad stuff happens."
Many county coaches agree. Centennial junior quarterback Owen Dresser threw just one pass Saturday -- and it was intercepted. The Eagles still defeated Howard, 14-13, for their first victory. At River Hill, junior quarterback Daniel Hostetler threw just seven passes -- completing five -- in a 64-0 victory over Oakland Mills.
Long Reach senior quarterback Ray Gilbert completed 4 of 6 passes in a 28-14 victory at Hammond, and Wilde Lake quarterback Dennis Smith completed 3 of 5 passes in a 42-13 victory over J.M. Bennett.
"You look around the county and not a lot of teams are throwing the ball," Mount Hebron Coach Larry Luthe said. "It wasn't like this last year."
The number of pass attempts in the county is down 20 percent from this time last year. Through four games, county quarterbacks have thrown 428 passes, compared with 530 last year. Only Hammond and Reservoir are passing more this year. Hammond senior quarterback Zach Swope, a three-year starter, has thrown 90 passes for 624 yards; he is the only quarterback who has thrown for more than 350 yards.
Coaches give two major reasons for keeping the ball on the ground more this year: a lack of experienced quarterbacks and an array of good running backs.
Last season was the year of the quarterback.
Four of them threw for more than 1,000 yards, and three others amassed at least 740 yards passing. But only three of them are back this year, and only four teams returned a starting quarterback.
With the exception of Hammond (0-4), which has been troubled by a shoddy defense, every county team graduated key receivers and lineman, stunting the growth of the passing game.
"I know with us, it's taken more time than we hoped to shore up our passing game," Long Reach Coach Pete Hughes said. "When you lose some great receivers like we had last year and some good linemen, it takes more than two or three weeks to get your timing down. That's why you're seeing a lot of teams stick to the running game."
"Throwing the football is one of the hardest things to do in high school," said Reservoir Coach Joe Lewis. "Your offensive line has to block, your quarterback has to read the defense and your receivers have to run the routes they are supposed to. If you can't complete 60 percent of your passes, it's tough to move the ball through the air. And I don't think there are a lot of offenses in this league that can throw the ball as effectively as they need to."
This season is the year of the running back.
The county returned five of last year's top eight rushers. Atholton, Hammond, Mount Hebron, Howard, Wilde Lake and Glenelg all have running backs on pace to rush for 1,000 yards, and two other schools -- Long Reach and River Hill -- have at least two running backs averaging at least 70 yards per game.
"You pretty much look at any school in the county, and they have running backs who can carry their offense," Atholton Coach Chuck Fales said. "Take us, we have Matt Winger, who has more than 600 yards in four games, and he could have a lot more if we gave it to him every play. When you are preparing for your next game, you're watching tape, and every team is featuring their running back for a reason."
"It's like why should we pass?" said Glenelg senior running back Trey Crayton, who has rushed for 542 yards and 10 touchdowns on 41 carries. "Right now, defenses can't stop our running game. All we need to do to gain five yards is hand the ball off. We don't even have to worry about passing the ball."
At least not yet. Coaches believe the disparity between passing and running will change during the second half of the season and in the playoffs.
"To win in the playoffs, I think the teams in our county are going to have to diversify their offenses," Luthe said.
"They are going to have to spread defenses out by throwing the football because if they don't, the other team is going to stack the line of scrimmage, and you can't run on that."
"Right now, Glenelg is the best team in our league," Lewis said. "But when they go up against teams from Prince George's County in the playoffs like Potomac who are just as big as Glenelg if not bigger, Glenelg won't be able to push them around. They are going to have to throw the football."
The county's quarterbacks are looking forward to proving they do not lead a one-dimensional offense.
"When the season first started, I didn't have a lot of confidence because I wasn't making a lot of throws," said Hostetler, a first-year starter. "I think that was a reason we didn't throw a lot. But in the past few games, I've completed some big passes, and I have confidence now. I think we are going to start throwing the ball a lot more."