Brandon Gross didn't have much time to admire his 14th goal of the season Monday night. Before he knew it, his McDonough boys' soccer teammates mobbed him and celebrated the double-overtime goal and a 2-1 victory as if they were celebrating a championship.

Forgive them for being a little eager. The Rams (10-1-1, 7-1-1) are closing in on their first Southern Maryland Athletic Conference title.

"It's almost like you could grab it, it's so close," said Gross, who scored 18 goals last season.

If McDonough -- the only SMAC team with just one conference loss -- hangs on to win the title, it would be the third consecutive season in which a team wins its first conference crown -- following Westlake in 2003 and Northern last year.

And much like those two teams, McDonough is built around experience. Gross is one of 11 Rams seniors, nine of whom are starters, back from last season's team. That Rams squad went 7-9, finished eighth in the SMAC and lost to Northern in the Maryland 3A South Region quarterfinals.

After finishing the regular season with games tonight against Patuxent and Monday at Westlake, McDonough will play in the 2A South Region playoffs, which will include defending 2A champion Atholton.

-- Alan Goldenbach