Oakton senior quarterback Kevin Houghton and senior wide receiver Ervin Garner have traditionally been faces in the crowd of the Cougars' offense, which revolves around running backs Keith Payne and Taylor Naleppa. Even though Garner had caught a pass in 14 straight games since he and Houghton started playing regularly last year, he had zero receptions in No. 5 Oakton's first two playoff games.
On Saturday, Houghton and Garner put themselves in the front row. Highlighted by a 76-yard touchdown on Oakton's second possession, the two players had career-best days for Oakton (11-2) in the Cougars' 19-16 win at L.C. Bird in last Saturday's state semifinal.
Houghton tied his career high with 233 passing yards and Garner shattered his previous best with five catches for 136 yards. The two players' efforts were essential, since L.C. Bird shut down Payne and Naleppa (77 combined rushing yards).
Houghton and Garner's play adds a facet to Oakton's offense as the Cougars prepare to take on defending champion Landstown of Virginia Beach in the state championship Saturday at University of Richmond Stadium.
"I've always felt we were a multidimensional offense, but we were running the ball so well, it would have been tough to take it out of Keith and Taylor's hands," Oakton Coach Joe Thompson said. "You have to give Kevin and Ervin credit. They never hung their heads, never complained. It paid off in the biggest arena for them."
Top-ranked Damascus and No. 4 Sherwood meet for the Maryland 4A title on Friday, their second matchup this season. If there's a common thread going in, it's that both coaches view the last meeting, a 25-7 Damascus win on Oct. 21, through their own lenses.
"In football, you can beat a team once and it's pretty clear who the better team is," said Sherwood Coach Al Thomas, whose team is 12-1. "Trust me; I'd rather play any of the teams we beat on the schedule than the one team that beat us. And they beat us pretty good."
Meantime, Damascus Coach Dan Makosy said his Swarmin' Hornets (13-0) face a challenge in a team coached by Thomas, his mentor at Damascus (13-0), and Thomas's assistant, Terry Changuris, who won seven titles as head coach at Seneca Valley.
"I look at it as we're kind of the underdogs in this game," Makosy said. "If you had to take the best high school defensive coordinator of all time, that's Al Thomas. If you wanted the best offensive coordinator, that's Terry Changuris. Not only do we have to play them twice in one year, they're the best at what they do."
Honors for Gulley
Defender Sara Gulley, a 2005 Robinson graduate, was named to the National Soccer Coaches Association of America all-American team for the second straight year, leading a list of four local players on the 2005 team.
Also making the team were senior midfielder Molly Franklin of Tuscarora, sophomore forward Tiffany McCarthy of St. John's and forward Claire Zimmeck of W.T. Woodson, a 2005 graduate.