Week 6 may have been plagued and interrupted by rain. But at least it didn’t ruin next week, too.
Middletown and Urbana each rolled to 6-0 with blowout wins over Frederick and Tuscarora, respectively, which sets up their delicious showdown this Friday night at Urbana.
The game is intriguing for any number of reasons, the most obvious being the Knights returning to the scene of their last loss, a 28-6 setback to the Hawks on Oct. 6, 2011. But that was two state titles and 28 straight victories ago for Middletown. The Knights have been the model program in the county ever since, using smart coaching, talented and determined players and an uncanny ability to summon their best effort when the situation has demanded it to lay out a blueprint for sustained success. It makes it hard to bet against them in games like this.
But Urbana poses a real threat to Middletown in a number of ways. For starters, the Hawks will be playing at home on a natural-grass field and not the fast-track artificial turf the Knights are so good and dangerous on in their home stadium. Playing at Urbana, because of that program’s rich history and success, has a so-called aura that has been known to unnerve an opponent or two. The players on Middletown’s 2011 team said it got to them a bit, which helps explain why they played so poorly that October night in an otherwise sterling season that ended with the Knights’ first state title, the Class 2A championship.
Another big reason to fear the Hawks is they have Frederick County’s most dynamic offensive playmaker this season in junior running back Ray Gray, who has already rushed for more than 1,400 yards this season and 15 touchdowns. Can Middletown find a way to slowdown Gray? And how will Gray matchup with a defense that hasn’t allowed a point in three weeks and only 27 for the season, one that has two Division I college lineman in Justin Falcinelli (Clemson) and Ricky Leonard (Florida State)?
And, if Gray, alone, isn’t enough to scare Middletown, Urbana has a capable passing attack led by junior quarterback Donovan Pannell. In Saturday’s 42-14 homecoming victory over Tuscarora, which was played Saturday morning, ironically, on Oakdale’s artificial turf field due to the weather, Pannell effectively used play-action fakes to both set up open throws for himself and runs for Gray.
The questions that will shape this Middletown-Urbana game are: Can the Knights find a way to effectively slow Gray where he, alone, does not beat them? And how will the Urbana defense hold up against Middletown’s own formidable line and rushing attack? Senior quarterback Tim Pirrone is just as effective running the ball as throwing it for the Knights. The undersized Urbana defense was gauged on the ground by Walkersville, a team Middletown beat 42-0. However, the Hawks rebounded and had a much better day defensively against Tuscarora, as they stymied the Titans’ rushing duo of seniors Shane Markward and Micah Anderson.
Sitting just off the side and watching all of this Middletown-Urbana hype unfold is Linganore, which is also 6-0 and has been, perhaps, Frederick County’s most impressive team this season. The Lancers are just as big, just as strong and just as fast as either Middletown or Urbana, and they have no shortage of their own playmakers on either side of the ball. To date, they have a 21-point road win over Westminster, which pushed Middletown and only lost by five in the season opener, and a 42-0 home win over Oakdale, which took Urbana down to the wire the previous week. Linganore will be a team that both Middletown and Urbana have to reckon with before county superiority is determined this season. The Lancers play at Middletown on Nov. 1 before hosting Urbana the following week (Nov. 8).
Thomas Johnson (4-2) deserves a lot of credit for bouncing back and posting a 27-6 victory over Walkersville on Saturday afternoon, a game that was also played at Oakdale High due to the rain. After back-to-back bad losses to Linganore and Oakdale, the season could have really slipped away from TJ after a promising 3-0 start. But the Patriots pulled together and rallied behind junior quarterback Alex Mason, who made his first start and passed for 146 yards and a touchdown. Mason, undeniably, has give TJ a spark. He came in at the start the second half the previous week against Oakdale and immediately started chipping away at what was a sizeable deficit. The Patriots rolled up nearly 400 yards of offense in the win over Walkersville.
The Lions must now find a way to answer the bell. After a 55-7 home win over Liberty on Sept. 12, they have now dropped four in a row, all against formidable opponents, to drop to 1-5.
Catoctin won back-to-back games for the first time this season after a 47-14 victory at Williamsport on Saturday. After two really good weeks by running back Ben Dewees, Shawn Herman has powered the Cougars on the ground in the last two. He finished with 119 yards on 20 carries in the win over the Wildcats. Quarterback Peyton Laramore tossed a pair of touchdowns for Catoctin, including one to Mark Speak, who was the team’s leading receiver in the game.
Brunswick, meanwhile, dropped to 2-4 overall with a 50-8 loss to South Hagerstown. The game was played Saturday afternoon on the turf field at Middletown High School, once again, due to the rain.