Wootton may turn the opinions of the disbelievers yet. Criticized by many for a soft schedule, the unbeaten Patriots were not considered a sure thing against Old Mill in the first round of the 4A playoffs. But they defeated the Anne Arundel County team, 17-7, to earn a meeting against the winner of the Springbrook-Severna Park matchup.

"I didn't know how we were going to fare against other teams," tackle Ryan Kuhl said. "Some people said we didn't have that difficult of a schedule. I guess we proved it right here."

"I think we gained a little respect with this win," Coach Bob Hampton said. "We're ecstatic about where we are right now. A couple of people were making bad remarks about our schedule and how easy it was. But we were right up there with the top guys all year with the state points."

Old Mill had a size advantage on the line of scrimmage, but all-purpose back William Beverly (seven carries, 17 yards) was hampered by a sore ankle and didn't take center stage.

Instead, Old Mill utilized five backs to carry the ball. Among them was Derric Johnson, a 5-foot-2, 120-pound lightning-quick runner who helped Old Mill march to Wootton's 8-yard line on the opening drive.

Old Mill was able to run the ball successfully, but the Wootton defense stood tough enough to keep the opposing Patriots out of the end zone.

When Steven Oliver's 30-yard field goal attempt sailed wide right, the stage was set for another improbable Wootton win.

The Montgomery County Division 2 champions struck twice for touchdowns just before the half. The first came on a 34-yard reverse by Marlon Evans, a play Wootton hadn't run since the season's first game.

After stopping Old Mill on the next series, Wootton took over at midfield. Quarterback Mike Mehok (five for 12, 84 yards), enjoying one of his finest games of the season, completed a 20-yard pass to Evans on third down and 10 at the 50 to keep the drive going.

Shawn Thomas (14 carries, 86 yards) then set up first and goal with a 24-yard run around the right corner. Two plays later, with 11 seconds to go in the half, Hampton called for a screen pass. Evans caught the throw and ran nine yards past the surprised Old Mill defense for the score.

"We felt they would be blitzing everybody or at least playing man to man because that's what they do a lot of down there," Hampton said. "We felt if we could get three blockers on one man we could get something so we went with the screen."

Old Mill closed the gap early in the fourth quarter behind the running of tailback Harold Peters.

Peters, who hadn't touched the ball in the first half, ran 10 times for 41 yards. He led Old Mill to the Wootton 20, where the offense faced fourth down and two. Eric Scott then threw 20 yards over the middle to Brian Jones for the touchdown.

Wootton came back, though, running the ball through the middle of the line for huge gains. Runs of 20 and 22 yards by Thomas and a 13-yarder by Kyle Horlacher set up a Wootton field goal. Geoff Pearce cleared the crossbar with plenty to spare from 32 yards.

Old Mill's last-ditch effort came up short as Pearce recorded two of his team's four sacks to stall the drive at the Wootton 22.

Old Mill's final play, a halfback option pass from Dackren Coleman, fell incomplete. Wootton then ran out the clock for the win.