The feeling first hit Douglass Coach J.C. Pinkney on the short bus ride from Upper Marlboro to Brandywine and only got stronger as the day went on. The Eagles weren’t mentally ready to play Gwynn Park on Sept. 15, the coach sensed, and the Yellow Jackets proceeded to pile up the points in a 39-16 victory.
Pinkney has not felt that way since. Douglass has won its past five games by shutout, outscoring its opponents 204-0. In fact, the Eagles (7-1, 6-1 PG 3A/2A/1A) have allowed just one touchdown to a team other than Gwynn Park this season, heading into Saturday’s game at Surrattsville (5-3, 3-3).
Douglass, which fell to Middletown in last season’s Maryland 2A final, can clinch a playoff spot for the 10th straight year with wins over the Hornets and Friendly (5-3) to close the season but could get left out of the field if they trip up in either game.
“We did the math [after the loss], and we knew if we lost another game, our playoff dreams could be shattered,” said Pinkney, whose team currently ranks third in the Maryland 2A South standings. “We’ve been treating it one week at a time – if we win, we stay alive.”
The team hasn’t discussed the shutout streak much in recent weeks, according to Pinkney. The coach said he has instead placed more importance on eliminating big plays and penalties.
During their current winning streak, the Eagles have not allowed a play of longer than 30 yards, and they committed just five penalties in last week’s 60-0 win over winless Central, two of which came on kickoffs out of bounds.
Senior Matthew Paul, an honorable mention All-Met linebacker in 2011, leads the squad with 60 tackles, and senior defensive end D’Sean Cummings — who holds six Division I scholarship offers — has a team-best six sacks on the year.
“It’s not about shutting people down, but you don’t want to let up,” Pinkney said. “If you give up a touchdown here and there, all the sudden you don’t mind giving up points and yards as much. It’s not as critical.”
It’s not an understatement to say Calvert is about to play its biggest game in a decade.
Last week, the Cavaliers earned their sixth win in a season without the help of a forfeit for the first time since 2002, and with wins in the next two games against Southern Maryland Athletic Conference and Maryland 2A South rivals Patuxent and McDonough (7-1), Calvert will be back in the postseason for the first time since that year.
Lose either one, and Calvert will almost certainly be on the outside of the playoff picture again.
“For us to be able to win out and have a chance to be in the playoffs, that’s crazy,” second-year Calvert Coach Rick Sneade said. “To see Calvert be able to experience this atmosphere and come together like they have is awesome.”
Sneade was an assistant at Calvert when the Prince Frederick school won its only state championship in 2000, and at Huntingtown for its first two state tournament appearances in 2009 and 2010, but his first building project as a head coach has seen results quicker than expected.
Calvert won three games or fewer in three of the last four seasons before Sneade took over in 2011, and won just three games last year during a transitional phase when Sneade implemented his systems.
“I went in with high expectations because I saw the type of kids we had, but who’s to know how it would work out,” Sneade said. “Our kids are a really good, tight family and they’re buying in. They’re making us look good right now.”
A win this week against Patuxent, which will clinch a playoff berth with a win and which beat Calvert 55-6 last year, won’t be easy, but Sneade points to his team’s two losses this year as hope that it will be ready for Friday.
Calvert took a second-half lead on three-time defending 3A South champion Huntingtown before falling 30-27 in Week 3, and battled with a Westlake squad that has made six consecutive playoff appearances in a 14-8 loss in Week 5.
“Westlake was celebrating after they beat us because they knew they had beaten a good football team,” Sneade said. “That’s a testament to our kids and it changed how we feel about ourselves. Hopefully we’ve learned enough from the games we’ve played already this season to be ready for the type of game we face now.”
Cox was playing for his second coach in as many seasons and working his way through a 4-6 season, Meade’s ninth straight year without a winning record. Last year, Cox and the Mustangs finished 6-4, snapping the program’s skid of losing seasons and coming within a game of the playoffs. This season, with the Mustangs alive and in the driver’s seat for their first playoff berth in a decade, the excitement around Meade football is growing.
“More people are asking what’s your record, how are you guys doing?” Cox said.
“The other day, I actually got stopped and asked by a person that doesn’t even go to the school how the Meade team was doing and who we were playing this week.”
At 6-2, the Mustangs control their own destiny in the Maryland 4A East region. With wins in their final two games against Severna Park and Broadneck, Meade would clinch the region’s third seed and make its first playoff appearance since 2001 when it advanced to the region’s quarterfinal game before falling to Bowie, 10-6.
The program’s turnaround has come with second-year Coach Rich Holzer at the helm, providing stability to a team that has undergone numerous coaching changes and roster turnover that comes as a result of the school’s location on Fort Meade. Holzer said his biggest task has been instilling a sense of discipline and a culture of winning on a team that had been lacking both during its long losing skid. When he took the job, Holzer reached out to Jerry Hartman, who coached some of Meade’s best teams in the 1990’s, and has tried to rebuild the program that Hartman described.
“He said that Meade back in the 80’s and 90’s was a powerhouse,” Holzer said. “They were the feared team in the county. They weren’t always the best, but everyone knew when they were coming out to Meade, you better buckle your chinstraps.”
The first steps toward that goal will come over the course of the next two weeks, when the Mustangs try to finally lock down that elusive playoff spot. Making the playoffs is now an expectation, Holzer has said to his team, not a goal, but for Cox and his teammates who have been on the team for four years, the opportunity to put the Mustangs in the postseason is more than just business as usual.
“You always want to be a class that is talked about as bringing back a tradition of winning to Meade High School,” Cox said. “To have winning seasons, back-to-back winning seasons, I can’t even describe it. It’s a great thing to know that you’ve pushed the program in the right direction so that future years can continue the success that you set up.”