River Hill football players screwed longer cleats into their shoes Friday night to improve their footing on a mud-soaked field. Long Reach Coach Pete Hughes purchased two dozen towels so his players could wipe the rain from their hands to reduce the chance of fumbles.
Mount Hebron scrapped its passing game against Hammond. Reservoir Coach Joe Lewis hoped for a postponement.
At least some teams in all surrounding counties postponed football games Friday night after several inches of rain fell in the area and a steady downpour continued through the evening. But Howard County teams played under a county policy designed to ensure that all teams play on the same day and in the same conditions.
Mike Williams, the county coordinator of athletics, said he could not get enough officials if all games were rescheduled for the same day, and he did not think it was fair to reschedule games on different days. If teams played on different days, they would have a different number of practice days to prepare for tomorrow's games, he said.
If games were postponed, "how do you decide who plays when?" Williams said. He said the equity issue, and the belief that the weather posed no safety concerns, determined his ruling.
Reaction from coaches and players was mixed.
"We still never should have played," Hughes said. "A few years ago, during the sniper attacks, we had one or two days of practice, and we still played a game, so it's not like we haven't done this before. I know when I walked off our field, I looked between the hash marks and couldn't find a single blade of grass. It was nothing but mud. I don't think playing on Friday was worth it."
In Prince George's and Anne Arundel counties, home team coaches can cancel individual games because of weather conditions. In Howard County, Williams makes that decision. But once a game has started, school officials can stop a game if conditions become unsafe.
"I haven't received one e-mail or complaint from anyone saying we should not have played," Williams said. "It was the right decision to play. And if things got really bad out there, the referees or the administrators at the school could have stopped the game, but no one felt that step needed to be taken."
No injuries were attributed to the rain, but coaches said playing conditions were poor and fields were damaged. And some said the weather and sloppy field conditions forced them to alter game plans.
"Once you step onto the field and it's pouring rain and it is so muddy that the players can't run as fast as they normally do and you can't throw, it changes every team," said Mount Hebron Coach Larry Luthe. "I think every team in the county looked a lot like each other because every one had to be one-dimensional. You pretty much had to run the ball all the time and hope for the best."
That style of play suited River Hill running back Nick Campanaro, Glenelg running backs Blake Mullinix and Trey Crayton, Long Reach running back Josh Brown and Mount Hebron running back Chris Eccleston. Each powered his way to more than 100 yards rushing and led his team to a win.
"It was horrible because you couldn't do what you wanted to do," said Eccleston, who rushed for a season-low 124 yards but still had a touchdown and two-point conversion in an 8-7 victory over Hammond. "Every team knows what the other one is going to do."
River Hill won at Wilde Lake, 28-14, because it had something the Wildecats didn't: a bruising running back in Campanaro, who rushed for 203 yards and three touchdowns on 27 carries.
"In a game like that, you pretty much throw out the X's and O's, and both teams line up and run at each other," River Hill Coach Brian Van Deusen said. "I told our team we needed to run the ball to win this game. We knew Nick was going to be a big part of what we were going to do, and he ran hard and made a lot of nice runs even though everyone knew he was going to get the ball."
Wilde Lake's offense is designed to get the ball to speedy running backs Zach Brown and Jarad Flagg, whose fluid change of direction makes them difficult to tackle.
"Playing in the type of weather we did hurt us more because we couldn't use our speed, and we thought we were faster than River Hill," Flagg said. "I think if the game was played in good weather, the whole game would have been different."
Glenelg rarely passes in good weather and on Friday threw just two passes in a 47-0 victory over Centennial, as it rushed for 375 yards and six touchdowns.
"We're suited for a game like this because all we do is run the ball," Glenelg Coach John Davis said. "That's what's so good about our offense. It doesn't matter what type of conditions we have to play in. We don't have to change what we're going to do."
"One of the toughest things was having to play with mud in your eyes," Glenelg senior center Colin Behe said. "Some of the time, I had to play with one eye shut."