October brought with it a new season for the Meade football team.
With a 21-7 win over Chesapeake on Saturday, the Mustangs have rattled off three straight wins, the first such streak since 2001, when the Mustangs won a school record 10 games and the 4A East region championship.
That 2001 season was the top of a mountain. Then came a valley: The Mustangs won five games combined in the following three seasons, including a winless 2003 campaign. And an 0-4 September this season didn't brighten hopes.
But Meade is starting to climb again, and it began with one player stepping aside.
Ashton Sykes's selfless act of relinquishing the starting quarterback position after the Mustangs' second scoreless game allowed junior Joshua Warren to take the reins, said second-year coach Andrew Smith.
"[Sykes] recognized that Josh might be able to make a greater contribution at quarterback because Ashton can play wide receiver, he can play safety, he can play corner," Smith said. "He said, 'Look, I'll play whatever you want me to play, but I believe Josh will be a better player at quarterback.' "
Meade still struggled in its next two games, but the offense put 6 points on the board in each of those losses.
Then came the Glen Burnie game Oct. 7. Warren completed 13 of 29 passes for 278 yards, one interception and four touchdowns. From that 40-36 victory came the confidence needed to keep scoring -- and winning.
"We had real confidence in our defense to begin the season," said senior safety Phil Staples. "Now that our offense is clicking, we're all together on one page and have no doubt that we can win."
Meade has three games left this season -- Northeast tomorrow, followed by Arundel and North County -- and the Mustangs are hoping to win all three and hang on to their slim playoff chances.
"This is my senior year," said running back Jamie Gordon. "I want to go out with a bang. I want to go to the playoffs."
Gordon hyper-extended a finger in practice three days before the Chesapeake game. On game day, he took the field with his finger wrapped and changed the game, mixing his speed and quickness with the more powerful, straightforward style of teammate Ian Turner.
Gordon ran 14 times for a team-leading 68 yards and scored the go-ahead touchdown, running just behind his linemen into the end zone for a three-yard score.
"He's definitely showing a representation that we won't let anyone get in our way," said Staples. "A representation of what we've gone through to get our third win. I'd put money on [the fact that] everyone that's starting on that field is playing through an injury."
Gordon also represents senior leadership, a limited commodity at Meade. Their quarterback is a rookie at the varsity level. Turner, who started the game at running back, is a junior as well, and several others are seniors playing their first year of varsity football. One new-to-varsity senior is Damien Cameron, who starts on both the offensive and defensive lines and has proven to be a major contributor.
Though Cameron and other senior first-year players such as Frank Staples and Dexter Williams have provided a lift to the Mustangs, the overall inexperience hurts the club.
"It adds a lot of stress on the team, because if we have them playing at least two or three years with us, their senior year [they] would be like leaders on the field," Smith said. "It took us to get to midway through the season to figure out that now some of these guys are catching onto the system [and recognizing] what we expect from them and what role they play within our system."
Now that they are catching on, the Mustangs are hitting their stride. If they keep it up, they could find themselves with their first season at or above .500 since that record-setting season of 2001.
"They're better than they've been," said Southern Coach Russ Meyers, who fell to Meade, 32-21, on Oct. 17, "and they're getting better each game through the season."