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Cadets try to uncork vintage game

November 19, 2004|by TIM KOELBLE

koelble@herald-mail.com

FREDERICK, Md. - For the 22 seniors on the Frederick football team, the last three seasons have been similar to the aging process of a fine wine.

Languishing through a 2-8 campaign in 2002 followed by a 6-4 mark last year, most indicators pointed toward a successful 2004 season for the Cadets.

Tonight, in the Maryland Class 3A West championship, Frederick once again will try to successfully romp through the "vineyards" at Cadet Stadium when it hosts Northwest, hoping to further complete the aging process with a trip to the state semifinals on the line.

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"We've been waiting for the playoffs for quite a while," said senior quarterback Cory Rhodes. "It's exciting to be where we are."

Frederick (10-1) reached the region final with an 18-7 win over perennial playoff team Seneca Valley, while Northwest turned out the lights on Urbana, 26-16. Seneca Valley is the lone common opponent between the schools and the only team to defeat Northwest, 36-35.

"We saw this coming with this senior class," said coach Vince Ahearn. "Most of them have been together since they played junior football."

Frederick, which shared the MVAL Chesapeake title with Urbana and Linganore, has not seen action in the second week of the playoffs since 1985 when it went 10-3 after a loss to McDonough.

Northwest, with a balanced attack, will severely test the Cadets with their skilled players, starting with quarterback Ike Whitaker, a 6-foot-2, 205-pound senior who has thrown for 25 touchdowns. His primary receivers are Darren Brownlee (6-2, 185) and Alphonzo Griffin (5-9, 155).

On the ground, the Jags will come with Tony Nelson, a 5-10, 210-pound senior who will head to Clemson next fall. Adding to Ahearn's worries defensively is smallish Salim Koromo (5-5, 150), who scored on a 55-yard punt return against Urbana.

"They are well-balanced and have athletes around the perimeter," Ahearn said. "You don't try to match up with them. We'll just go out defensively and contain and control them."

In recent years, the Cadets have been known for their offense, but have offered little resistance on the other side of the line of scrimmage. That changed this season.

"In the past our offense was more of the showcase, but this year it has shared with the defense," Rhodes said. "It's been more balanced. I think our defense has been the key for us. Offense sells tickets, but defense wins games.

Ahearn credits assistant coaches Seth Sherwood and Jerry Smith for formulating plans for the defense, led by T.J. Taylor, Mike Murphy and Tom Prazenica, allowing the head coach to concentrate on offensive strategies.

"Over the summer, we took the slogan from West Virginia University of 'relentless pursuit' and lived by that," said senior linebacker Taylor. "In the off-season, we made a commitment with weights to get bigger and stronger."

Senior Bruce Dorsey, who will line up at linebacker in certain situations, said people didn't expect a lot defensively.

"To tell you the truth, even I didn't expect us to be this good on defense," Dorsey said. "But the hard work by everybody has paid off."

Still, one player didn't get to see the hard work through to the end, at least on the field. Brian Lanning, another of the senior group, will be relegated to the sidelines watching and cheering his buddies after suffering a torn ACL against Urbana on Oct. 14.

"When Brian went down I said 'Oh no, no ...' Ahearn said. "But people like Taylor and (sophomore Anthony) Walker have really stepped in for us."

Rhodes is the focal point of the Frederick offense, but by no means is he the only option.

A load to tackle, the 6-foot-2, 225-pound Dorsey has bulled through opponents for a school-record 2,003 yards rushing and 26 touchdowns behind an experienced line.

Rhodes, who has thrown for 1,425 yards at a 59 percent completion rate, handed out his own accolades to the offensive line starting with senior center Dale Stephens, joined by Jesse Highling, Zach Davis, Ryan Crummit and Geoff Fry.

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