Northern 20, Chopticon 0
The schedule might show that Friday night was just the beginning of the second half of the football season. But as far as Jimmy Schaefer is concerned, it's much later than that.
"I told everyone that the playoffs start here," Northern's senior quarterback said after the Patriots' 20-0 homecoming victory over Chopticon. "We've got to win every game from here on out if we want to go to the playoffs."
Two seasons might have crossed paths on Northern's field. Coming from one end were the surging Patriots (5-1 overall, 5-1 SMAC), who have allowed only 12 points and shut out three opponents while reeling off five straight wins since a 42-6 season-opening loss to Westlake.
"After the Westlake game, we knew we were better than that," said senior defensive end Chad Staley, who had four sacks and two tackles for loss in the second half Friday. "It's important for the defense to be able to carry the team. There are going to be some nights that the offense is off, and we know we can take care of things."
Going in the opposite direction is a once-promising season for Chopticon (4-2, 4-2). After winning its first four games -- including the last three by a combined eight points -- the Braves' sky-high spirit seems to be waning. Four days after losing to Thomas Stone, 16-13, Chopticon appeared to lack the emotion and intensity that carried it through a memorable September.
It seems the Braves may have started to believe their own hype, and two quality teams have gotten in the way of their next win.
"I think we did get a little ahead of ourselves," junior fullback Darron Showalter said. "We just have to come back and win next week."
The problem for Chopticon, though, is that it no longer controls its destiny. None of the Braves' upcoming games -- vs. Leonardtown, Calvert, La Plata and Great Mills -- pit them against an opponent battling for a playoff berth, as this one did. Westlake and Gwynn Park are comfortably ahead of the rest of the Maryland 3A South Region, with Northern and Friendly each with only one loss.
"We just need to put this week behind us," Chopticon Coach Tony Lisanti said. "We can control the next game. That's all we can do. It's unfortunate that we didn't rise to the occasion."
On the other hand, Northern has the momentum Chopticon lost just a week ago. The Patriots know they can ensure a postseason slot for the second time in three years with victories over their final four opponents. They visit Calvert and Great Mills the next two weeks before hosting Lackey and Patuxent in games that will probably have postseason ramifications for all three teams.
But if Northern's defense, which allowed Chopticon only 90 yards of total offense, continues to improve the way it has over the past few weeks, and junior A.J. Brown continues his spectacular running, the Patriots will be very tough to beat down the stretch.
Chopticon's first possession of the second half, a 13-play, 50-yard drive that lasted 7 minutes 31 seconds, ended at the Northern 5 yard line. After Staley wrapped up Anthony Fenwick for a one-yard loss on third and goal, Chris Franklin batted down a fourth-down pass at the line.
After Schaefer threw his second touchdown pass to David Taylor to make it 20-0 with 6:19 left, Chopticon junior Devon Miesner tried to rally his teammates on the sideline, noting the Braves' overtime win against Patuxent: "We've come back with six minutes left. We can do this again."
But Chopticon's seven-play drive ended at the Northern 39, when Staley stopped Dwight Savoy in the backfield on fourth and 5.
For the third time in four weeks, Brown rushed for a career high, this time gaining 200 yards on 27 carries, including a 3-yard scoring run with just under five minutes to play in the first half that made it 14-0.
Brown has rushed for 685 yards and eight touchdowns the past four weeks.