Old Mill got out of the county and the 4A East Region with a 19-7 win over Arundel last week and for the first time will play in the state semifinals. But for the Patriots, the work has just begun.
Old Mill will trek to Damascus tomorrow to face the top-ranked Swarmin' Hornets.
Undefeated Damascus has scored more than 20 points in all but one of its 12 victories this season, averaging 28 points per game, and has held opponents to fewer than 20 points all but once, giving up an average of fewer than 11 points per game.
The Hornets also have two 1,000-yard rushers in Steven Anderson and Kyle Hogan. In other words, Damascus is a strong candidate to achieve its sixth state title, second in three years and third consecutive state final appearance.
"They're just very good fundamentally, a sound, all-around football team," said Old Mill Coach Mike Marcus. "We need to limit turnovers and not panic. They're going to do what they do; everyone knows what they can do. If we can hang in until the end, I think we'll have a chance."
Damascus Coach Dan Makosy said a key to the game, in addition to establishing the running game on offense, will be to stop the big play on defense, particularly against Old Mill running back Ryan Callahan. "He's the real deal," Makosy said. "We'll have our hands full with him."
Callahan is usually the big play maker or an important cog in the big play. He has rushed for 1,749 yards this season, scored 32 total touchdowns and stands one touchdown shy of tying the state record for career touchdowns at 86. His dangerous ability to slip tackles and get into the open field often frees up the passing game by giving receivers single coverage down field and junior quarterback Kelian Stevens easier targets to pinpoint.
"They've got a pretty good balance," Makosy said of the Patriots' offense. "They mix play-action and pass in with [the run] pretty good. We need to keep [Callahan] from breaking the big ones. We've got to make them earn it all they way down field."
Old Mill scored its three touchdowns against Arundel in the 4A East Region final last week in grand fashion. Stevens was accurate again, as he has been most of the season, finishing 9 of 13 for 131 yards and one touchdown, a post route that receiver Steve Holmes took 51 yards for the score; it was his fifth receiving touchdown of the season.
Callahan scored the other two touchdowns for Old Mill, a 53-yard punt return to begin the scoring and a 31-yard run to seal the game and dash Arundel's state title hopes for the second year in a row.
Senior Brandon Gonzalez led the Arundel defense with 12 tackles and half a sack. Arundel held Old Mill on its first five possessions before giving up the punt return to Callahan. The Wildcats allowed Old Mill to reach the red zone once.
"We made the changes we had to and played as hard as we could; it just didn't turn out the way we wanted it to," said Arundel senior linebacker Terone Travis.
Arundel will again lose its starting quarterback for next season as senior Kyle Sumpter departs after one year at the helm of Coach Chuck Markiewicz's offense.
And the underrated Wildcats' defense will lose several key players as well, including Travis, Gonzalez and defensive lineman Dominique Moore.
"I think we played well" this season, Travis said. "I don't think we got as much credit as we should have gotten -- I think our defense was one of the best in the county, but sometimes you can't win."
Old Mill will probably have to do better offensively to pull out a victory against Damascus, and if the Patriots do win, they would shock more than Damascus and its fans.
"This is really the first game we go into [this season] where people say you should lose," Marcus said. "It's going to be different for us. It's a type of situation where we can relax and go play."
"It's going to be exciting for us," he said. "There were about [3,000] people [at Damascus] against QO [Quince Orchard]. Our kids deserve to be in that, to really see what high school football should be in this area."