It had become a standard routine for undefeated Douglass. Build up a big lead, then let the reserves mop up a lopsided victory. Only once during the regular season did the Eagles' starters have to play a full four quarters.
The playoffs, as Douglass and several other county teams found out last weekend, often present a different story.
Not until an interception return for a touchdown in the final two minutes could the Eagles relax in their 13-0 victory over Suitland on Saturday in the Maryland 4A South Region semifinals.
Douglass, though, was not alone in playing an unusually close game. One week after handling Eleanor Roosevelt, 28-12, C.H. Flowers trailed by 12 points and needed to hang on for a 13-12 victory over the same Raiders in a 4A South semifinal. Gwynn Park, rarely threatened during the regular season, needed a late touchdown pass to beat Westlake, 14-7, in a 3A South semifinal.
Of the five playoff games involving county teams, only Potomac had an easy time, defeating Glenelg, 42-21, in a 2A South semifinal. Friendly lost to Lackey, 21-19, in a heated 3A South semifinal that the Patriots believe they won on a final-play touchdown that was not granted.
"When you play a team you're familiar with, you're going to make adjustments and it's going to be a closer game," Flowers Coach Mike Mayo said. "You've seen them on tape all year, got something to go by and you make adjustments."
Flowers gets a chance at another rematch Saturday when it plays Douglass. The teams' first meeting, a 12-0 Douglass victory, was the only time during the regular season that the Eagles were at all threatened. Last Saturday, though, Douglass found itself in a nail-biter, though Coach J.C. Pinkney said it was not a surprise.
"Our guys knew Suitland was going to come in prepared and that it would be a tough game," Pinkney said. "We told them it was going to take four quarters."
It was the toughest game yet for Douglass, which has outscored opponents 383-37 and has yet to trail this season. The Eagles took a 6-0 lead on Jamaine McCain's 95-yard return of the opening kickoff and then held on, with Pinkney advising his players against trying to do too much and possibly making a bad play. Gwynn Park Coach Danny Hayes said he had a similar philosophy as his team was tied 7-7 with Westlake late in the fourth quarter before Quintin McCree's 54-yard touchdown catch.
"We're pretty patient," Hayes said. "It was a matter of time. I know we've got guys in there that are big-time leaders."
McLeod, Potomac Are Just Fine
Potomac limited second-team All-Met linebacker Adrian McLeod's playing time at the start of the season to give the senior's high ankle sprain as much recovery time as possible. Now, though, McLeod appears just fine and the Wolverines are rolling in the playoffs.
McLeod carried nine times for 96 yards and two touchdowns, recovered a fumble in the end zone for a touchdown and returned an interception 23 yards for a fourth score in a 42-21 victory over Glenelg in the Maryland 2A South Region semifinals. The Wolverines (9-2) will play at Atholton on Friday.
"That [injury] really slowed him down," Potomac Coach Eric Knight said. "He wasn't really ready until week five, but now he's really raising hell. He's not touching the ball very much, but when he does he's making things happen. "
Disappointing Finale for Bowman
As he untied the harness protecting his injured right shoulder, Navorro Bowman was in no hurry to leave the field. Suitland's All-Met linebacker had returned from the injury for the Rams' regular season finale, led his team to a victory that put them in the playoffs and he did his best in the Maryland 4A South Region semifinals against Douglass. The undefeated Eagles did not score an offensive touchdown and finished with just 60 yards of total offense. But Suitland did not score either and lost, 13-0.
"I'm real disappointed," Bowman said. "I'm a team player. I've got heart. I had a scholarship, but I've always wanted to play football. I don't want to let my team down defending the state championship. They count on me. I came back to give it all I had, not sit around and watch them lose a couple games. This team has no reason to hold their heads down."