Playoff tingle hits seven teams

November 12, 2004|by MARK KELLER

Two schools ending long postseason droughts, one matchup of Washington County foes and another between former annual opponents highlight the first week of high school football playoffs, which kick off tonight with five games.

The Frederick Cadets make their first playoff appearance in 17 years, while the Jefferson Cougars - the surprise team in the Tri-State area this season - are back in the postseason for the first time since 1992.

The Cadets (9-1), who were expected to make a run at the playoffs this year, tied with perennial powers Urbana and Linganore for the MVAL Chesapeake Conference title. They are the top seed in the Maryland Class 3A West bracket and play host to another tradition-rich program, Seneca Valley, in the region semifinal tonight.


Frederick is led by a pair of Herald-Mail Offensive Player of the Year candidates in running back Bruce Dorsey, who has rushed for more than 1,500 yards, and quarterback Cory Rhodes, who has thrown for over 1,500 yards.

After losing their first game of the season, the Cougars (7-3) took off, winning their next five before running into Cumberland Valley Athletic League powers Fort Hill and Martinsburg. Jefferson ended a string of 11 consecutive losing seasons and recorded its best regular-season record since 1990. The Cougars are seeded 10th in the West Virginia Class AAA bracket and travel to Buckhannon-Upshur tonight.

Under the leadership of first-year coach Richard Mills, who has refused all season to look back at where the Jefferson program has been in recent years, the Cougars have, in fact, put the past behind them and eliminated the losing culture that existed at Jefferson.

The Hancock Panthers and North Hagerstown Hubs each ended long playoff layoffs last season, while the Smithsburg Leopards and Walkersville Lions stopped more modest postseason droughts. All four teams are back in this season.

The Leopards (8-2) had their best season since 1994 - when they won the last of their five state titles - and finished second in the MVAL Antietam, but they enter the playoffs on a two-game losing streak. They'll have a playoff game on their home field for the first time since 1991 when they play host to Hancock tonight.

Smithsburg, seeded second in Class 1A West, has two Player of the Year candidates of their own: running back Justin Thompson, who ran for 1,216 yards and 18 touchdowns, and linebacker Matt Feiser, a defensive monster who had 157 tackles and 10 1/2 sacks.

Feiser also ran for 10 touchdowns and fell 58 yards short of the 1,000-yard rushing plateau.

The Panthers (9-1) posted the most wins in school history this season, but a schedule tailored to keep the small school competitive left them short of bonus points and put them in the No. 3 position in Class 1A West.

Hancock is led by a 1-2 punch of a backfield in fullback Josh Ruppenthal, who ran for 1,102 yards and 13 touchdowns, and quarterback Jaret Trail, who added 753 yards and nine touchdowns.

Jeff Willison had 11 sacks and Kenny Clark had six interceptions to head up the defense.

Hancock has played Smithsburg 11 times since 1967 and lost all 11 games, scoring a total of 46 points.

The Hubs (9-1) have put together the best two-season stretch in the program's history, winning 20 games. They'll have their hands full tonight when they travel to Francis Scott Key - an opponent from the old MVAL - for the most evenly matched game featuring a local team.

North, the No. 3 seed, will rely on a speedy, stifling defense, just as it has all season. The Hubs allowed just 88 points, led by defensive end Dink Snowden, who had 67 tackles and 12 1/2 sacks, and linebacker Dean Staley, who had 58 solo tackles and 97 total.

The Hubs' balanced offense will keep the Eagles guessing. Quarterback Robbie Thompson threw for 1,242 yards and 19 touchdowns, while Leon Finley, Marcus Scott and Matt Ridenour spearhead another potent running attack.

The Lions (6-4) bounced back from a slow start to get into the 2A West playoffs with the No. 4 seed. Their 20-13 win over Middletown last Friday was their first win over the Knights since 1996 and pushed them into the postseason for the second straight year.

Their reward: A Saturday meeting with the powerful Fort Hill Sentinels, whose only loss this season was by one point at Martinsburg three weeks ago.

Speaking of Martinsburg, the Bulldogs are in the postseason, too. Martinsburg (9-1) earned its seventh straight playoff berth, taking the No. 2 seed in the Class AAA bracket. The Bulldogs play host to University tonight at Cobourn Field.

Bulldogs quarterback Nate Sowers, an Offensive Player of the Year and Kennedy Award candidate, proved himself as a double threat, throwing for 1,716 yards and 18 touchdowns while running for 808 yards and 12 touchdowns.

The Bulldogs are shooting for their third trip to the state finals in four years. They are still seeking their first state title.

Md. Class 1A West semifinal

Hancock Panthers (9-1) at Smithsburg Leopards (8-2)

When: Today, 7 p.m.

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