Do you feel that? It's the state football playoffs getting underway, and there aren't too many times of year better than this. Tonight, every team that played well enough to make the playoffs will start their quest to the state title with divisional round matchups. Every week, the field gets reduced by half and the stakes grow and grow.
I recently spoke with Sherwood coach Marc Thomas, who has guided his team to the division title and the top seed in the Maryland 4A West. I asked him how he was treating his preparation differently this week now that the games mean so much more. Warning: get ready for a lot of coach-speak.
"We're just trying to keep things simple, get re-focused." Thomas said. "The next part of the season is the playoffs, so not much has changed, just trying to stay focused on one game at a time."
One of Thomas' best players, defensive back Jamaal Merritt, echoed that sentiment.
"We had that feeling last year, and we don't want to feel that again. We just gotta play our best game, every game, and treat each week like it's a state championship."
Sherwood will be playing Springbrook just a few weeks ago and beat them 14-0. But Thomas is quick to point out that at this point in the season, past victories don't really mean anything.
"When we played Springbrook two weeks ago we didn't have a great game, and they didn't have their best player. So, I think the game is gonna be different in that sense."
The Sherwood team is confident and excited about the playoff matchup, which is pretty much all you can ask for; and I think that attitude starts with the head coach. It's a cliché, but Coach Thomas is really helping these kids take it one game at a time.
"Some of these kids are like, we got 16 more practices until the state championship. Well, it's more like you got four practices, until you win this game. Then you get four more. Every game is the state championship."
The playoffs are the best part of the football season: let's make sure you're prepared for it. Here are three matchups you need to keep an eye on this weekend.
Gonzaga at Good Counsel - WCAC
One of the things I look for in a playoff matchup is whether or not the two teams have already met this season. It makes the matchups more personal and unpredictable.
These two teams met 14 days ago, as we talked about in last week's edition of Varsity News. If Gonzaga had won they would have been the top seed and would have avoided playing a team like Good Counsel or DeMatha in the first round. In fact, the fourth seed in the WCAC is 5-5 St. John's, not exactly an imposing opponent.
But because they lost, Gonzaga was entered into a random selection to choose to the top seed, and it went to DeMatha. Gonzaga didn't even get the second seed, which means that they have to play on the road at Good Counsel. Talk about a bad roll of the dice.
When they met two weeks ago, Gonzaga led for much of the contest before a fake punt led to a monumental run by the Falcons. Good Counsel should have a lot of confidence after their win a few weeks ago, but Gonzaga has played well enough to have the confidence that they can beat anyone in their conference. It will be interesting to see how this one turns out. I'll be at this game on Friday night, and will have a full recap for you next week.
Seneca Valley at Quince Orchard - Maryland 3A West
A few weeks ago, I described this matchup as the teams that I‘ve seen lose to Damascus, but in reality it's much more then that. Both of these teams are 8-2, and as they trail Damascus, make up the two/three match up in the Maryland 3A West Bracket.
When these two teams played less then a month ago, Quince Orchard got the better of Seneca Valley by the score of 24-13. The star of that game was Quince Orchard outside linebacker Alex Twine, who had four tackles for loss, a blocked punt, a forced fumble, a pass breakup, three RBIs and a short-handed goal (okay, not the last two things.)
These are two teams that know each other very well, and they don't really like what they know. This will be a knock-down, drag-out type of affair for the right to play in the championship game of one of the best divisions in the area.
The Whole Maryland 4A South Bracket
Remember what I said earlier about loving games that featured teams that have played recently? It doesn't get any more recent then the two matchups that make up the first round of the Maryland 4A South bracket. These four teams all played each other last weekend, in the same matchups that they will play this weekend.
Eleanor Roosevelt (the three seed) beat up on Suitland (the two seed) 34-14. It was Suitland's first loss of the year.
C.H. Flowers (the four seed) got beat by Wise (the top seed) by a remarkably similar (30-12) score.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about these matchups is that every loss that each of these four teams has suffered has been to the other three teams that make up this bracket. They play plenty of conference games but not one of them has had a let down against any other opponent. It tells you how good they are, but it also tells you that they are evenly matched. Both of these games should be competitive, and I wouldn't be surprised if any two of the four advances.