As high school football teams start counting their power points and gearing up for the playoffs, it's time to take a tour around the area to get a reading on surprises, disappointments, bests, worsts and a few things in between.
Who better to begin with than Seneca Valley's Chris Kelley? Entering the season, perhaps no one player faced more pressure than the standout quarterback. Kelley, a returning All-Met as a linebacker who was regarded by most as the Washington area's top player this season, was charged with guiding a team that has not lost since 1996.
Since the opening game, defenses have focused squarely on stopping Kelley, particularly his ability to run. Some players have tried to get under Kelley's skin, adding an extra shove here or a poke in the side there.
How has the 6-foot-2, 200-pound senior responded? He has passed for 1,035 yards with 17 touchdowns and just one interception. He has rushed for 688 yards and nine touchdowns. He has one touchdown returning punts, on which he averages 40.7 yards per return. One more thing: He has been the biggest reason the Screaming Eagles (7-0) have extended their area-best winning streak to 33 games.
"He's done everything I thought he can do and more," Seneca Valley Coach Terry Changuris said. "Extraordinary is the word that comes to mind. Anybody that can drop back and make reads and throw the ball as pretty as he does in the pocket or on the run and can thread the needle or drop it 60 yards downfield is unbelievable. Then we turn him around and make him [like] a tailback, and he can outrun people and run over them. He can't do any more."
Said Kelley: "There are a couple of throws in each game I know I could have completed. Little mistakes here and there. But I think it's going pretty good so far."
Best Turnaround Sure, South Lakes lost its only real test, falling to Centreville, 20-7. But last season the Reston school was 0-10; this season, under first-year coach Dennis Randolph, South Lakes is 6-1 and a shoo-in for the school's first playoff berth since 1991.
Honorable mention: Manassas Park (from 3-7 to 6-1) and Northwest (from 2-8 to 6-1).
Biggest Surprise West Springfield 10, West Potomac 7. Sophomore place kicker Meggie Godish kicked a 23-yard field goal and an extra point, and the Spartans held on to beat the then-No. 8 Wolverines.
Best Games You Can See No. 1 Seneca Valley at No. 4 Gaithersburg, Oct. 29: The battle for supremacy in Montgomery County, with two of the area's top offensive players--Kelley and Gaithersburg running back Jay Colbert, the school's all-time rushing leader.
No. 10 Robinson at No. 11 Lake Braddock, Nov. 5: Barring an upset, both teams will be 9-0 entering the season finale, and this will be for the Virginia AAA Patriot District title. And there is a chance the loser might not even make the playoffs.
Best Games You Won't See Seneca Valley, Hylton and DeMatha vs. each other: These three teams have dominated the Washington area the past 1 1/2 seasons, but don't expect them to play each other any time soon.
"I think everybody in the Washington, D.C., area would love to see the games; they're natural attractions," said DeMatha Coach Bill McGregor, whose team has not played a Montgomery County public school opponent since 1985.
Unfortunately, Maryland's playoff structure is such that if Seneca Valley were to lose to DeMatha, there is a possibility the Screaming Eagles could miss the playoffs, regardless of how they fare in their other nine games.
"You understand how public school coaches feel, and you don't blame them," McGregor said.
Best Unknown Players Potomac (Md.) wide receiver-defensive back Glenn Thomas, La Plata running back Titus Green and Urbana quarterback Zack Mills.
Thomas might have the most impressive numbers of them all: 22 receptions for 400 yards and five touchdowns, seven carries for 70 yards and two touchdowns, an average of 61 yards per kickoff return with two touchdowns, 16.5 yards per punt return and five interceptions, averaging 37.8 yards per return with one touchdown.
"Once he gets the ball, he wants to do something with it," Potomac Coach Eric Knight said. "And he wants the ball all the time. If you sent the plays in with Glenn, by the time it got back it would probably be a fade to Glenn or a reverse to Glenn; anything to him."
Playing just across the Frederick County, Md., line from Montgomery County, Mills has committed verbally to Penn State and has guided the defending Maryland 2A champion to a 6-0 start.
Green, a punishing runner, has earned plenty of attention from future opponents scouting the Warriors.
Toughest Schedule, Part I Dunbar. The Crimson Tide's nonconference schedule included No. 3 DeMatha, No. 2 Hylton and national powers St. Ignatius of Cleveland and Zanesville, Ohio. They tied DeMatha, 14-14, and had Hylton on the ropes before a questionable unsportsmanlike conduct call on a missed field goal attempt gave the Bulldogs a second life. Although Dunbar is just 4-3-1, it still stands a good chance to repeat as the D.C. public schools champion.
Toughest Schedule, Part II Friendly. The defending Maryland 3A champion went out and scheduled No. 2 Hylton, No. 1 Seneca Valley and Glen Mills (Pa.). It didn't turn out to be a good move, with losses of 30-6, 42-0 and 43-14, respectively. The Patriots, 13-0 last season, are 2-6.
Toughest Finishing Schedule No. 15 Westlake. The Wolverines (6-1) play No. 9 Suitland Saturday, then play at 6-1 Patuxent Oct. 29 and close with No. 16 Thomas Stone (7-0) Nov. 5.
Honorable mention: The Prince George's 2A/1A league, whose top four teams--No. 20 Potomac, Central, Fairmont Heights and Forestville--play each other the next three weeks. The round-robin started yesterday with Fairmont Heights (6-2, 2-1) beating Forestville (6-2, 2-1), 14-12, when a 25-yard field goal with eight seconds remaining went wide left.
Team of the Future--and Present No. 10 Robinson. The Rams (7-0) start just a handful of seniors and have a talented crop of younger players, led by junior quarterback Garrett Schires and sophomore running backs Mike Imoh and Kristopher Kiley. Of course, Robinson will have to find a way to replace senior running back-defensive back Scott Sanden (who has committed verbally to Penn State) and lineman Robert Bennett (Boston College).