Leonardtown’s 3-0 start to the season was cause for celebration earlier this fall. Five games later the Raiders (5-2, 6-2 Southern Maryland Athletic Conference) are poised to qualify for the playoffs for the first time in the school’s 35 years.

The Raiders’ two losses came in back-to-back games against Huntingtown (7-1) and Northern (4-4), and scheduling this year will keep them from facing undefeated Patuxent. Their final two games come against Chopticon (2-6) and at Great Mills (0-7, 0-8).

The Leonardtown of old was defined by 2-8 seasons, mental errors and a lack of cohesion on and off the field.

“It’s ‘Old Leonardtown’ as a mentality,” said Coach James Klenk after the 3-0 start. “They’re so far from that it’s not even in the realm of that.”

The Raiders’ trip to postseason marks a shifting tide in the top teams in the conference.

Westlake (15 playoff appearances) and McDonough (13) are the conference teams with the most postseason experience, but neither team is in the top four spots in the standings after Week 8.

Patuxent (8-0) and Huntingtown both lead their regions (3A South and 2A South). Lackey (5-2, 6-2) and Thomas Stone (4-3, 5-3) are among the top four teams in 3A South, and the two will meet in the final week of the season. . . .

Lackey, which last made the playoffs in 2009, is in second place in the 3A South standings after a forfeit from Westlake in Week 2 and their first win against a Charles County team since 2008 (Northern in Week 5). Junior running back Juwann Briscoe has paced the Thomas Stone offense in his return to varsity after sitting out last season. He has contributed 799 rushing yards on 127 yards for 11 touchdowns and three receptions for 80 yards and two receiving touchdowns.

Top five emerge in Howard

The first half of the season saw River Hill and Glenelg secure the top spots in a swarm of talented teams competing for Howard County supremacy. In the weeks since, Reservoir, Howard and Hammond have emerged from the scrum to fight for playoff spots with two games remaining.

The Gators (6-2) opened the season with a loss to Centennial (5-3) and fell to Glenelg (7-1) two weeks later, but have not lost a game since. Reservoir sits comfortably at third in 3A East and will host Atholton (1-7) Friday.

Howard fell to Glenelg and Reservoir in consecutive games, but topped Centennial and Hammond (5-3) in the last two weeks. The Lions host River Hill (7-1) this week and will aim to capitalize on whatever faults Hammond was able to find in its Week 7 upset of the defending 3A champion Hawks.

Hammond will look to bounce back from last week’s lopsided loss to Howard when it hosts Wilde Lake (3-5).