Football Preview: Friday Night Lights in small towns and the 12th Man
High School football season comes to a close as many of the DMV’s public and private schools are finished with conference and state championship playoffs. At this point only a few teams have survived the quest for that championship plaque.
So, on Tuesday of this week I spent an afternoon at the Navy-Marine Stadium in Annapolis the site of Maryland Public Secondary School Athletic Association (MPSSAA) playoffs at a media day with all regional quarterfinalist coaches.
For the MoCo faithful only two teams remain in the hunt – Quince Orchard in Class 4A and Damascus in Class 3A. Heading into this weeks play on Black Friday QO is at home hosting Annapolis from Anne Arundel County as Damascus hosts Potomac from Prince Georges County. I spent the media session period with the head coaches from Annapolis and Potomac.
Annapolis (11-1) – Fighting Panthers in the Maroon/Royal colors. Major loss was to Old Mill. Head Coach: Nick Good Malloy – 5 years.
Annapolis has a 96-year tradition of high school football competition according to Good-Malloy. As a 2000 graduate of Annapolis he played in the state championship against Calvert and went onto play and coach at Salisbury University and then coached at Glen Burnie High School before returning to Annapolis. In the five years as head coach he has compiled a 29-24 win/loss record with this being the second year Annapolis has qualified for MPSSAA playoffs and their first regional championship since 2000.
Lead by running back Cameron Hough and quarterback Justin Williams Annapolis uses the spread offense to feature both these players. Hough in season averaged 10.2 yard/carry while Williams is around 5.3. Williams also passed for 1,429 yards with 15 touchdowns. On defense Annapolis like QO features the pro 3-4 defense as linebacker Dayshawn Womack leads with 74 total tackles while Nyonjae Spriggs has four pick sixes for touchdowns among his 11 interceptions as safety.
I asked Good-Malloy how Annapolis fans travel and will they show up on Friday night. He said, “we are going to find out and that he is encouraging all their fans to turnout” that he knows how the fans follow Quince Orchard and “QO does a great job supporting their team and hopefully [Annapolis] match that intensity”. He knows that the Red Army will be there and it makes for a good atmosphere and that hopefully their student body can match it. The players are motivated to win and return home to Annapolis to what would be basically a home game since the school is nearby the Navy Stadium. He sees a lot of similarities between the programs of QO and Old Mill and is using that as motivation to prepare for Friday’s game in the Cougar Dome.
Potomac (8-3) – Wolverines in the Navy Blue/Vegas Gold. Beat Blake and rival Oxon Hill to advance to 3A regional championship round. Head Coach: Ronnie Crump – 7 years.
Potomac High School located along the Maryland riverside communities in PG County has been in existence since 1964. As busy as it may seem they consider their area and nearby Oxon Hill as small town communities. Brothers of most resident families choose to stay and play for Potomac loyal from the local elementary school programs on up and returning to Potomac later to even coach. Potomac boasts players who have gone onto play throughout all collegiate levels and currently have three graduates in the pro ranks. In the seven years as head coach Ronnie Crump has compiled a 56-23 win/loss record and has made the playoffs five times during this period.
Lead by University of Maryland commit as a running back, Ta’yon Fleet-Davis and quarterback Javonte Howard, Potomac is a passing team. Howard passed for 2,343 yards with 29 touchdowns, 17 of which were in the air through just 10 games. Fleet-Davis, whom Crump likes to joke about “as having kept him in his back pocket out of sight of DeMatha” rushed for 832 yards with a 5.4 yard/carry average with 10 touchdowns on the ground and 6 on the receiving end. On defense they are lead by Williams Luckey, a four year player who has 78 total tackles as a linebacker and is supported by a squad that includes Fleet-Davis.
I forgot and Crump reminded me that perhaps the biggest challenge for Potomac was from playing on Saturday afternoons. I knew that PG County is in the process of upgrading 3 high schools per year with new turf fields and stadium lights but unlike those larger schools like Wise, Potomac still plays in daylight on Saturday’s. That can be a challenge when player’s families must make a choice to attend big brothers Saturday’s collegiate game or perhaps doing the workweek shopping. The fan base and crowds though supportive are not as large as they will experience in Damascus on Friday. So it has been particularly a challenge to prepare the team for what is expected to be a full capacity crowd in small town Damascus. Add to that the challenge of playing under those Friday Night Lights and it becomes just a little more than a team on team game. Crump and his Wolverines are up for that challenge and the future appears bright.
Going into week 13 of high school football here in the MoCo there is not much that is not known statistically about the four teams that will change on this Friday night. Emotions run high during these “Glory Days” and it is either by luck or divine intervention that something special happens. However by listening to these two visiting coaches it appears that it’s the intangibles that will stick out and make a difference. The home crowds known as the 12th man, the lights and the energy of a Friday night and the support of families, friends and traditions of a small town environment that holds the football balance and outcomes they all will remember.