It wasn't the prettiest win, but in the end, the win was all that mattered. In a steady downpour on a mud-thickened field, Severna Park kept the ball on the ground and pounded out a 17-7 victory over North County on Friday night.

The win keeps Severna Park (4-1, 4-0) undefeated in the county standings along with Annapolis (4-1, 4-0) and Old Mill (5-0, 5-0).

But after only five games, the Falcons and the rest of the Anne Arundel League have a long way to go; the playoff landscape is forming, but the next couple weekends could serve as a shakeup.

Severna Park knows that particularly well. The Falcons will take on Old Mill and Annapolis the next two weeks and will face Broadneck to end the season. It will be an intense ride, because in the 14-team 3A East Region, a second regular-season loss could bounce them from contention.

That disturbs Coach J.P. Hines, but he also uses it as a motivating factor. He knows he can't allow his team to become complacent, with only half the season done and the meat of the schedule looming.

"We haven't really played anyone who's a powerhouse except [nonleague] Calvert Hall, and they whupped us," Hines said. "We still have our work cut out for us to make it against a playoff-caliber team."

One such team is Old Mill, which the Falcons have scheduled for a homecoming game tomorrow night. Old Mill proved itself in its first five games, knocking off Arundel (4-1, 4-1) and Broadneck (3-2, 2-2), so a win for Severna Park would be a confidence boost. But it's easier said than done.

"Old Mill is loaded," said Hines. "They have a quality quarterback, wide receivers that can catch and block, and a running back who's a playmaker that can take it anytime to the end zone."

Controlling that playmaker at running back will probably be key for Severna Park, as Old Mill's Ryan Callahan has run for 817 yards this season on 103 carries. He's also the county's career touchdown leader, with 67.

"He's got great vision, and size doesn't matter," said Hines of the 5-feet-7, 155-pound Callahan. "It's speed that puts it in the bank, and he's got a lot of it."

Annapolis won't have a cake walk the rest of the way, either, as it plays Arundel tomorrow night, followed by Severna Park and Old Mill. Annapolis Coach Brian Brown said his team is "making the progress I thought we'd make the second year in [my] system."

A pleasant surprise for Annapolis, said Brown, has been a defense that has held its last four opponents to a combined 22 points after losing the season opener to Prince George's County power Gwynn Park, 39-6.

"On offense I knew we had the weapons, but we've made leaps and bounds defensively," said Brown.

What some area coaches said wasn't a surprise was Broadneck's fall from county dominance this season. The Bruins have made the postseason every season since missing the playoffs in 1999, but this year, that streak is in jeopardy. The Bruins (3-2, 3-2) are coming off a 22-8 win over Southern on Monday, and, if they continue to improve as Coach Jeff Herrick would like, could close out the season at 8-2. That record could give them a shot, but they may still find themselves playing the waiting game.

"We're dissatisfied," Herrick said of their 2-2 record. "But what we're excited about at this time is that we're improving gradually. We knew coming in we had a lot of positions to fill and we have a lot of inexperience."

Broadneck returned five starters on offense this season and three on defense.

"At this particular point the front-runner is Old Mill," Herrick said. "But what I've seen over the years is . . . by the seventh game, things really start to take shape. It's way too early to talk about who's going to come out on top. There's going to be some people who play each other in the end that will determine the standings."

South River (3-2, 3-2) is tied with Broadneck in fifth place and North County (2-3, 2-3), sits behind them. North County finished 3-7 last season, and some coaches believe they are one of the most improved teams this season.

"North County's a better team than people think," said Hines. "They're a good team. . . . They're a much better team than when [Coach Gary Liddick] got here, I'll tell you that."

Above, Brent Sanders (9) and Marques Johnson of Severna Park tackle North County's Matt Wever during the Falcons' 17-7 win. Left, Greg Zingler moves the ball for Severna Park.Severna Park turned to its running game to down North County on a muddy field. The win kept the Falcons undefeated in county play.North County's Raymond Mack goes for the extra yard against Severna Park's defense.