With a crop of new faces taking the reins of a Wildcat offense that led the county in scoring last fall, Arundel Head Coach Chuck Markiewicz knows that until his young starters get clicking, he’ll have to ask a lot of a defense that is loaded with experience and talent at nearly every position. In their season-opening, 38-14 victory over the Severna Park Falcons on September 6, his defensive stars resoundingly answered the call.
While the offense slowly shook off their first-start jitters and labored to recover from a rash of early turnovers, the defense firmly kept the Falcons at arms’ length all evening by dominating the line of scrimmage, haranguing Severna Park quarterback Taylor Kitzmiller and generally making life miserable for whichever Falcon player drew the short straw of trying to run the ball against the Wildcats’ ferocious front seven.
“We’ve got a bunch of leaders over there on defense. There’s some really good players,” said Markiewicz. “So hopefully our defense will be able to carry us for a couple weeks while we go through some of the growing pains on offense.”
Having never lost a game in two years on JV, junior quarterback Anthony Messenger made his first start on an offense that averaged 47 points per game during last year’s 10-1 season. Gone is his predecessor, star quarterback Jack Gordon, as well as the vast majority of the Wildcats’ rushing and receiving threats from last season, and their collective absence was apparent during the early stretches of the game. The Wildcats sputtered out of the gate, fumbling away the ball on the second play of the game, throwing an interception on their second drive, then failing to convert on fourth down after a high snap left Messenger scrambling for his life on their third possession.
However, the Wildcats’ read-option offense came to life later in the first quarter when Messenger threw a play-action slant to receiver Don Keithe, who eluded two defenders and took it 32 yards to the house to get Arundel on the board, 7-0.
On the ensuing Severna Park possession, Aaron Snyder stepped in front of a pass by Fitzmiller and gave his offense great field position with a 25-yard interception return to the Falcons’ 36-yard line. After a perfectly executed screen pass to running back Larry Barnes got the Cats down to the 13, Messenger hit receiver Jordan Stewart on a slant for another touchdown, putting his team ahead 13-0 on the first play of the second quarter.
The Falcons threatened later in the quarter after linebacker Richard Sellers picked off Messenger deep in the Wildcats’ zone. Four plays later, Falcons running back Tyler Haskell took a fourth-and-one handoff straight up the gut for a three-yard touchdown run to make the score 13-7.
But Messenger, Barnes and the rest of the offense responded immediately to the Falcons’ threats. Back-to-back perfect passes by Messenger had the Cats storming down the field with less than two minutes remaining in the half when Barnes caught a screen pass, sliced through a pair of would-be tacklers and took it down to the Falcons’ 25-yard line. On the next play, Messenger threw a dangerous out route to receiver Isaiah Watson that was a hair away from being intercepted for a sure touchdown the other way; instead, Watson snagged the pass, cut back towards the middle of the field, then juked his way to the end zone for a 25-yard touchdown with 33 seconds left in the half.
Entering the second half, the Wildcats’ two-possession lead felt practically insurmountable. The defense pressured Kitzmiller nearly every time he dropped back to pass and made it clear in the early going that any rushing attempt was an exercise in futility. Led by a linebacking corps of Diondre Wallace, Lee Rodgers and Kwame Kumah, a defensive line anchored by Malik Treadwell, Roderick Henry and Samir Berraho, and Snyder and Gary Harrell in the secondary, the Wildcats frustrated Severna Park into repeated three-and-outs.
Meanwhile, the offense settled down in the second half as Messenger began patiently picking apart the Falcons’ secondary and combining with Barnes to keep Severna Park’s front seven guessing with their read-option rushing attack, with both scoring on second-half touchdown runs.
“You know, we have a really young team and we were trying to be patient with [the offense] early in the game, and that’s hard for me because we’re used to scoring all the time,” Markiewicz said. “I knew they were a little nervous because they’re young, so I knew we had to pull back our emotions to help them understand that ‘punt’ is not a bad word, and that we’re playing great defense. Once we got a score, we got rolling a little bit and I knew we’d be okay, but it just took us awhile tonight.”
Next up for the Wildcats is an early test against Old Mill on September 12, followed by their home opener on September 20 against North County.