In the 4A East Region, second chances often come when the playoffs roll around. That's the case for Arundel as it gets its second crack at Old Mill in the region final tomorrow at 5:15 p.m.
The Wildcats fell to Old Mill, 41-14, in the first game of the season, but last week they showed the improvement they've made since then, especially on offense. Arundel quarterback Kyle Sumpter, who led the offense to 244 yards the first time around, is coming off a five-touchdown game against Thomas Stone last weekend in the region semifinals. He totaled almost as many yards of offense himself that day as the entire team did in its first game, rushing for 101 yards and two touchdowns and throwing for 140 yards and three more scores in a 33-0 win.
Not only was the offense firing for Arundel (9-2), but the defense was swarming. Dominique Moore tallied 10 tackles, four for losses, and recovered a fumble as the Wildcats held Thomas Stone's power running game to 104 yards.
"They played pretty well," Arundel Coach Chuck Markiewicz said of his defense. "To hold a team like that scoreless at this time of year, that's a pretty big deal. We're not really known for our defense around here.
"We've gotten better against the power offense, which we had to," Markiewicz said. "That's been the goal because at this time of year, people try to keep the ball away from us. . . . so we have to be able to stop the run."
Stopping the run will be key in tomorrow's matchup, as Arundel will take on the county's top back, Ryan Callahan, whose 83 career touchdowns are three short of the state record.
Callahan scored four touchdowns in the Patriots' 37-8 win over North County (6-5) in a 4A East Region semifinal Friday.
The Old Mill defense knocked North County quarterback Josh McQuade out of the game on the fifth play with an injury to his right ankle and rolled from there. Though he threw 10 interceptions this season, his first at quarterback, McQuade also recorded 1,361 yards and 13 touchdown passes coming into the game and, without him, the Knights' shotgun offense just wasn't the same. Old Mill (9-2) picked off four passes from the backup quarterback and collected three more fumbles.
"When one person broke down, another person would go ahead and pick it up," said Old Mill Coach Mike Marcus. "Our defense played phenomenal."
Contrary to what the score might suggest, the North County defense did not play poorly. Four Patriot scores came on drives beginning inside the Knights' 35-yard line. And though the Knights gave up four touchdowns to Callahan -- three rushing, one on a punt return -- they held him to 89 yards on 17 rushes, with most of his yardage coming on one 52-yard scamper.
"They came here to win the game; they didn't come here to lose," North County Coach Gary Liddick said after the game. "I have a couple kids who are pretty upset. They took it pretty hard. That alone, within itself, shows how far we came because a year ago, two years ago, they would have just got on the bus and wouldn't have even been upset, because that was part of the norm, and it no longer is."
The anguish felt by the North County players was evident after the game as several Knights lingered on the field long after the stands and sidelines had cleared, as if trying to cling to every last second the season could offer. Senior linebacker and offensive lineman Maurice Royster, who led the team in tackles on the night (13) and the season (80), and senior defensive back and receiver Raymond Mack, who finished the year with 12 receiving touchdowns, were the last to leave the field Friday, finally allowing the curtain to fall on their season.
"It was intense. It was all or nothing," Royster said of the game. "We're proud of each other regardless. . . . It was an emotional moment. The seniors, we've been working at this for four years and we finally got to the playoffs. It was a dream come true."
The dream is still alive for Severna Park (10-1) in the 3A East Region as the Falcons defeated North Harford, 21-0.
Falcons Coach J.P. Hines was proud of his offense but highlighted his defense. The play of linebacker Mark Otto (15 tackles) and Dave Horn (nine tackles) helped the Falcons record their third shutout of the season and keep their opponents under double-digit scoring for the seventh time this season.
"I thought they were outstanding. They played great," Hines said of his defense.
The key to the win may have been the Falcons' goal line stand at the end of the first half.
It was third down for North Harford on the Falcons' 2 yard-line with under a minute to play, and the defense rose to the occasion, stopping the play. Out of timeouts, North Harford tried to snap the ball quickly on fourth down, but did so before the referees allowed, drawing a penalty and ending the half.
Severna Park will host River Hill on Saturday at 1 p.m.