ELLICOTT CITY, MD --- It's officially playoff time in the state of Maryland and many other states across the country. 16 teams in each class will fight to be crowned top dog of the state.
For our first playoff game of the year, we traveled out to Howard County to see a 4A North match-up between the Mervo Mustangs (9-1) and the Howard Lions (10-0). Mervo has never reached a regional finals in school history, and unfortunately, that won't change this year for the two-time Baltimore City champs.
Howard advances to the regional semi-finals with a 20-0 victory over the Mustangs, in a game that was all about defense.
“I have a few more grey hairs after that game,” said Howard head coach Bruce Strunk after the game. While the Lions high-powered offense struggled, the Lions defense played phenomenal. Their front seven caused havoc the entire night for the Mustangs' offense. Muddy Mchemba, Felix Fonmedig, and Stephen McNair all played a big part in Howard's pass rush, forcing Gavin Richardson to make many mistakes, throwing three costly interceptions.
Bryson Craven was the recipient of all three interceptions, even taking one to the house in the second quarter. Craven's pick six came right after the Mustangs stopped the Lions inside the 5-yard line. The Mustangs moved the ball up to their own 35-yard line before Craven took it to the house 55 yards.
The Lions offense was pretty much non-existent. Quarterback Casey Crawford, couldn't find his targets on either short passes or deep balls. Mervo's secondary didn't make it easier, along with their speed pass rushers on the ends, Malcom Ali being the main one. The Mustangs also did a good job at containing Howard's all-time leader in all-purpose yards, Malik Anderson, who didn't have much of an impact.
Anderson's biggest play of the day was a 62-yard TD run that was called back for holding. The Mustangs made sure that the playmaker inside without any cut-back lanes. Overall it was a great performance by the Mustangs' defense.
The offense just wasn't there, Richardson tweeting after the game he played his worst game of his career.
Next for the Lions they will host a 10-1 Sherwood team that is no stranger to playoff football. Sherwood represents the always competitive Montgomery County, already defeating the defending 4A champs, Northwest Cougars. Game will be next Friday at Howard High School.