For the first 20 minutes of last Friday's Annapolis Area Christian-St. Mary's game, it looked like it was going to be a long night for Josh McPhearson. The three-star AACS running back had fumbled twice in the first two quarters, allowing St. Mary's to grab a 13-0 lead.
But that's when McPhearson broke out of his funk.
"I was a little down early on, but I kept telling myself, 'I gotta keep playing my game and help my team get back in this,'" said the 5-foot-10, 182-pound McPhearson. "After the second fumble, I was determined not to let it happen again. In the second half, I just went all out and took it to another level."
That might be an understatement. McPhearson rushed for over 150 yards and three touchdowns in the second half alone, leading AACS to a 35-13 victory. On the night, the Eagles' running back totaled 237 rushing yards (a state high this week) and averaged over 13 yards per carry.
"My motto this year is I just want to play my game and everything is going to work out fine," McPhearson said. "[On Friday] it definitely did. My teammates did a great job blocking for me, and I was able to go out there and show everything I'm capable of."
McPhearson's first touchdown came right after halftime, giving AACS a lead they would not relinquish. He scored on a 1-yard plunge that came directly after a 48-yard jaunt.
"That [48-yard run] got me going. My speed, my versatility and my vision were all in synch on that one," McPhearson said. "Then I just followed my lead block on the next play and took it on for [the touchdown]."
Later in the game McPhearson busted out again for a 42-yard touchdown. This time he turned a simple lead-dive designed to pick up a few tough yards into a dash for daylight.
"My fullback led me right through the hole," McPhearson said. "I hit the open field, turned on the gas and it was off to the races - touchdown."
By that time, AACS had gone up 28-13 in the fourth quarter. But McPhearson had one more long run in him before the game ended. On a counter play, he broke left, caught two blocks from his receivers, burst into the secondary and motored 54 yards for his third score.
With that, McPhearson eclipsed the 200-yard mark for the night. He now has 728 yards (on 41 carries) and 10 touchdowns on the season.
"You know, it's definitely a blessing to get this opportunity," said McPhearson, who transferred from DeMatha by way of Riverdale Baptist before the season. "Everything has been great so far and hopefully me and my teammates can keep it up. I'm shooting for the stars."
Player of the Week (Defense)
Normally we don't name a defensive player of the week, but Donovan Riley's performance last Saturday was too good to ignore. The Poly three-star cornerback almost single-handedly led his team to a 12-0 victory over rival Edmondson.
Riley had three tackles, two pass breakups and three interceptions to go along with four catches for 70 yards and a touchdown on offense. Two of those three picks came with the Red Storm driving inside the Engineers' red zone. And the third? Riley took that one back to the house.
"I don't know if I can put on another performance like that," said the 6-foot, 190-pound Riley, who is committed to Virginia Tech. "You know how Michael Jordan used to say when he was in a zone the hoop looked as big as a swimming pool? Well, that's how I felt. Everything was just coming to me. Primetime players make primetime plays."
Riley's first primetime play came in the third quarter. After a scoreless first half, he spurred Poly by killing an Edmondson drive with a red-zone interception. He returned the ball 72 yards, setting up the offense for its first score. A few plays later, Riley hauled in a 29-yard touchdown catch for a 6-0 lead.
Edmondson had a chance to tie the game on their next possession. They drove all the way to the Poly 18-yard line before Riley struck again. This time he anticipated the pass, jumped the route, snared the pick and ran it back to around midfield.
"Those are the types of interceptions you dream about - back against the wall with the other team about to score," Riley said. "When Edmondson got down [inside the red zone] I was just asking them to come right at me. I wanted the opportunity to make a play. [Edmondson] threw in my direction and I came up big."
Even with the miscues the Red Storm still trailed by just one touchdown. They had the ball once again deep inside their own territory looking to mount yet another drive.
But that's when Riley iced the game with a 15-yard pick six.
"The quarterback rolled to my side, but instead of coming up on him I stayed disciplined in coverage," Riley said. "He tried to float a pass over my head, but I picked it off. Then I dodged left, dodged right and went to the end zone."
With his three-interception effort Riley now has five picks on the season. One year after being named to the All-State team, he said he's taken his game to another level in 2011.
"I'm becoming more than just a football player - I'm becoming a student of the game," Riley said. "I'm learning how to study film more effectively and use that to my advantage. This week I was able to read the quarterback, the receivers - everything. The game is really slowing down for me."
*Note: It is possible, with hundreds and hundreds of names flying across the wire, that some offensive standout was overlooked. Also, defensive statistics are not included since a) some teams do not keep them and b) they aren't always reliable.