Great Mills 12
With a once-promising shot at the playoffs long gone, it would have been easy for Chopticon's football players to hang their heads, even after the Braves closed the season with a 21-12 victory at Great Mills on Thursday night.
That, Darron Showalter said, was something the old Chopticon would have done. But just moments after the Braves' 7-3 season was sealed, the team was showing something it had long lacked -- perspective.
"We can take this over to next year," said the junior running back, who rushed for a season-high 118 yards and two touchdowns. "This brings a whole new aspect to our program. Everybody around school kept us up, and we showed everybody that we can play."
After opening with four straight victories, the Braves overcame a midseason swoon to finish with seven wins for only the second time in a decade. That was cause for celebration on the field after their final post-game huddle.
"They know how to persevere," said first-year coach Tony Lisanti, who was formerly a longtime assistant. "They have faith in one another. They know someone is going to make a play, and they don't worry about whether that's going to happen."
Junior Dwight Savoy said Lisanti "stressed that everybody play together. We didn't have that with our people last year."
After Lyle Kralle scored on a 1-yard run on Great Mills' first possession, Showalter answered with a 5-yard scoring run on a 13-play drive to put Chopticon ahead 7-6. Showalter's 20-yard touchdown run on Chopticon's first drive of the second half brought the score to 14-6.
Kralle scored again on the next possession, making it 14-12. But Great Mills could not convert a two-point attempt, and the Hornets got no closer.
Any tension lingering from last year's game, which ended in a bench-clearing brawl with nine minutes to play, was quashed in the final minute. The Braves took a delay of game penalty and kneeled twice at the Hornets' eight-yard line rather than trying to punch in a late score.
The optimism was a little tougher to find in the Great Mills locker room, but it was there, too. The Hornets also had a breakthrough season, even if their 3-7 record is not quite indicative of it.
Great Mills had a combined five victories over the previous five seasons. In addition to winning more often this year, the Hornets were more competitive in their losses.
"Right now, they don't know the meaning of quit, and that was the first thing we had to instill in them," said first-year coach Bill Griffith. "The confidence level of these kids [is such that] they know they could play with anyone.
"The attitude used to be: We could beat Leonardtown and nobody else. They've beaten two out of four Calvert County teams," said Griffith, noting a 36-35 victory over Patuxent and a 22-0 blanking of Huntingtown.
Most inspiring to both programs, though, is that several key players -- including Chopticon's starting backfield of Justin McVerry, Anthony Fenwick, Savoy and Showalter, and Great Mills quarterback Cody Kohn -- who bought into their new coaches' systems will return next season.
"We haven't been very good in the offseason," Lisanti said, "and that's something we have to rectify."