The Saturday morning of every game, the coaches' wives at Seneca Valley High School cook breakfast for the team at the school cafeteria. No one knows what Millie Schembechler did at 8 a.m. yesterday before Michigan and her husband, Bo, went against Ohio State in another game in another world. But Sally Thomas, whose man, Al, is the coach at Seneca Valley, was cooking scrambled eggs and steak.
"Normally, we have sausage with the eggs for about 50 guys," Al Thomas said. "But for the playoffs, we go for steaks."
Sally Thomas smiled and headed back to the stove.
Seven hours later, Seneca Valley would defeat Meade High 21-0, in a Maryland Class A semifinal playoff game at Wheaton High. Now a winner of 25 straight games, 11 this season, 10 of those by shutout, Seneca Valley needs one more victory for its second straight state championship.
At 8 a.m., it was beautiful at Seneca Valley, a 4-year-old school near Germantown in the rural reaches of Montgomery County. Less than a Ray Guy punt away, ducklings floated single file across a field pond shining with the slanting rays of the winter-coming sun. Cows pulled at stubborn grass and birds worked the rows of an emptied cornfield.
This wasn't to be a memorable season for Al Thomas and Seneca Valley. They won the Class B championship last year with a team that started 18 seniors. Only three starters came back this time, joined by only two other lettermen, and of 64 players, only four are over 6 feet tall, only two weight more than 200 pounds. "And we," Thomas said, chewing his playoff steak, "were going to be a powerhouse?"
Four new students showed up, one from Canada, one from New Jersey, two from the county. All are starters now, three of them on the tidal-wave defense that has left in tiny pieces every offense that dared stand in its way. In 11 games now, Seneca Valley has outscored its opponents 275-6, that solitary touchdown scored when someone picked up a fumble and ran it in.
"We have four super defensive players - Mike Rouser, a tackle; Mike Muller, a backliner; John Sienkowski, a back, and Auston Beckham, a tackle." Thomas said. "And everybody else is aggressive as hell. We pursue like crazy. See that kid?"
Thomas nodded at a player at the next table. Small fellow. Looked harmless enough.
"That's Mark Pacini - a 5-foot-7, 149. Know what he plays?"
Right outside waterboy?
"Linebacker. Can you believe it? You talk about aggressive. If he was 200 pounds, he'd be Mike Curtis." (Curtis is a mad dog who plays linebacker for the Redskins.)
It was 9:45 a.m. when Thomas walked through a boiler room where players were being taped.
"Here's our two-way halfback, plays both offense and defense the whole game," Thomas said. He spoke of Wayne Moore, a senior. "Stand up here, Wayne."
Moore hopped off the training table and stood up. Only it looked as if he'd stepped into a deep hole.
"Wayne's 5-foot-2 and 132," Thomas said.
The little big man smiled.
"You know," the coach said, trying not to giggle, "Wayne's not really that fast either. A lineman almost caught him last week. Right, Wayne? A nose guard! Step-for-step, 70 yards, right with him. Gol-lee. You'd think Wayne here could outrun one of those big ol' linemen."
Moore kept smiling. "That guy was pretty fast," he said. "But he didn't get me, did he?" A microback with speed and cunning, Moore also ran a punt back 82 yards this season. Yesterday he scored two touchdowns on runs of 10 and 12 yards.
It was 10:26 and one of Thomas' assistants was on the telephone, waking up a buddy for a scouting trip. Thomas is 36 years old, for 10 years and assistant coach at nearby Gaithersburg High before hiring on when Seneca Valley opened. "Tell him," Thomas shouted to his assistant, "that if I was Woody Hayes, he'd be fired for sleeping so late."
Woody Hayes. Another game, another world. Or is it? Maybe 106,000 people would show up at Ann Arbor, may 2,000 at Wheaton. The Rose Bowl went to the winner one place, while the other would bus it to High Point.
They wanted it no less here than there, though, and that's why the game is played. No more obvious example of the rewards of teamwork is available than a game for high stakes. "Imagine," Thomas said, "what Woody and Bo are thinking now."
Eight minutes later, walking to a gynasium where he would walk his team's units through one last reminder drill. Thomas squinched up his face and said, "This is when my ulcer starts acting up." He smiled. Sort of.
It was 11:15. They'd taken a bus to Wheaton and now they walked on the wooden floor of a locker room, the clicking sounds of cleats echoeing off the bare walls.It was time to go warm up and-they pulled on their helmets and it was strange, the effect that simple act had. Only a moment before, they were fresh-faced children: now they seemed ready, in their combat gear, for a war of sorts.
Then it was 12:30 and Thomas, in his final words before the game, told the silent players, "We're not here because we're BIG! And we're not here because we're fast. We're not extremely talented, and we don't have brilliant coaches. We're here because we're damned aggressive. We're an aggressive football team. Three things make a good football team: pride, aggressiveness and execution. Anybody that has them all, they're winners."
It was 12:45 and Thomas ended a prayer by asking for his players that they get through the game safely. "And let us, Lord, be able to say, 'I did my best.' Amen," Thomas said.
And the players, once silent, filled the room with a roar of anticipation.