As late as a week before the start of preseason practice, Suitland Coach Nick Lynch was unsure who would be his team's starting quarterback. Wilbert Brinson, whom Lynch had been considering, transferred to Gwynn Park. "Then we thought about Mark Duncan or Navorro [Bowman], maybe just putting one of our athletes at quarterback," Lynch said, referring to his standout wide receiver and running back.
Then Lynch learned of an unpleasant but fortunate surprise. Marta Harley, who as a senior became the team's starting quarterback midway through last season, had failed to graduate, and he was enrolled in classes this year. Because Harley did not play football as a junior after transferring from Parkdale, he was eligible to play this season. His return has proven beneficial for the No. 14 Rams.
Harley had two short touchdown runs and capped a crucial hurry-up drive with a 15-yard touchdown pass to Michael Howard late in the first half yesterday as the host Rams defeated ninth-ranked C.H. Flowers, 22-18, in a meeting of Prince George's 4A league leaders before a standing-room-only crowd of 2,500 in District Heights.
By dealing Flowers its first loss, Suitland (8-0, 7-0) is on track for the top seed in the Maryland 4A South Region playoffs and moved closer to its first undefeated regular season since 1997.
Suitland had fallen behind 18-7 after Flowers ran 23 consecutive offensive plays and scored three touchdowns in less than three minutes of the second quarter.
With just 64 seconds left in the half, Harley calmly drove Suitland for a momentum-turning touchdown. Monty Clayton rushed two times for 40 yards, then Harley threw a pair of seven-yard swing passes to Clayton. Harley capped the drive by finding Howard open in the right side of the end zone with three seconds left in the half.
"It's much different" playing with a season of experience, Harley said. "I feel more comfortable. I'm able to read [defenses] better and know what's happening."
That brought the Rams within 18-14, and they took the lead on a time-eating drive to open the second half. Harley kept the ball for a 20-yard gain to move the ball inside the 10, then scored on a four-yard quarterback keeper. His two-point conversion run made it 22-18. The Rams' defense made that lead stand by limiting the Jaguars (7-1, 6-1) to 15 plays in the second half.
"You can't rush if you don't have the ball," said Flowers Coach Mike Mayo, whose team was held to a season-low 157 yards rushing.
River Hill senior quarterback Ben Hostetler threw for 165 yards and a touchdown and ran for another to lead his team to a 52-21 victory over No. 19 Long Reach in a Howard County game between undefeated teams in Clarksville.
River Hill junior running back Darol Smith ran for a game-high 134 yards and three touchdowns on eight carries to round out an offensive attack that enabled the Hawks (8-0, 7-0) to enter Friday's showdown at Mount Hebron (8-0, 7-0) off to the best start in school history.
The 52 points scored by county co-champion River Hill were the second-highest single-game total in the school's nine-year history -- just shy of the 53 it scored against Century in 2002. It was also the most points Long Reach had given up in its nine-year history. The Lightning's defense had allowed 59 points in its previous 11 games dating from last season.
"We came out here expecting to win," River Hill Coach Brian Van Deusen said. "But I didn't think we'd put 52 points on the board. I don't think anyone did."
River Hill scored three touchdowns on its first 11 plays, as junior Kevin Magan scored on a five-yard run and Smith scored on runs of 58 and 50 yards.
Long Reach (7-1, 7-1) pulled to 31-21 when sophomore Keith Richardson scored on a 17-yard run to open the second half, but sophomore receiver Greg Nowak (five catches, 108 yards) responded by catching a 30-yard touchdown pass from Hostetler with 4 minutes 44 seconds left in the third quarter to extend the lead to 38-21.
River Hill senior Tyler Martin and Smith turned what many expected to be close game into a rout by scoring on runs of two and 25 yards, respectively, in the final 4:16.
"Long Reach got us nervous a little bit when they started coming back, but we knew we were going to stop them," said River Hill senior linebacker Ryan Deiter. "What makes this so great is that no one expected this, so being able to score as many points as we did was like icing on the cake."