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Highway 108 hosts Maryland's top teams

Nine miles, three schools, two counties, one highway, zero losses.

Route 108, located in central Maryland, does not appear to run through a football hotbed, but spend a Friday night driving between Clarksville and Olney and you can see three of the state's best football programs.

Starting in Clarksville, the River Hill High School football team is the Class 2A defending state champion and has dominated the Howard County League the past five years. Seven miles west on Route 108, moving into Montgomery County, is Sherwood High in Sandy Spring, led by legendary coach Al Thomas. Two miles further west, in Olney, is nationally ranked Good Counsel High, with its own legendary coach, Bob Milloy.

All three programs put the finishing touches on undefeated regular seasons last week -- all going 10-0. All three are the No. 1 seeds in their regions or conference -- River Hill in Maryland Class 2A, Sherwood in Class 4A and Good Counsel as the favorite to win the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference title.

Never has a stretch of highway in Maryland produced such dominant programs within such a short distance.

"USA Today does a thing and they have the Top 10 in the East. They have River Hill, Sherwood and Good Counsel in there somewhere," Thomas said.

To be specific, in USA Today's Super 25 prep football regional East rankings, River Hill is at No. 2, Good Counsel at No. 5 and Sherwood at No. 10. No other Maryland school appears in the regional rankings. Good Counsel is ranked No. 25 in the latest ESPNRISE FAB 50 rankings. Local voters have similar feelings, ranking Good Counsel No. 1 followed by River Hill at No. 2 and Sherwood at No. 4 in the MDVarsity.com High School Football Media State Poll.

So far, the schools have lived up to the billing. Good Counsel defeated DeMatha, which has won five straight WCAC titles and seven this decade, in a nationally televised ESPN2 game. Sherwood defeated then-No. 1 ranked Quince Orchard earlier this season 14-6, and River Hill once again powered through Howard County to win its sixth straight county title.

Oddly, none of the three schools has ever played each other in a regular-season contest.

"It is kind of interesting to be so close and to have three schools that can win those championships," River Hill coach Brian Van Deusen said.

The beginning of this power road began in 1996, when River Hill opened, joining the already established Sherwood on Route 108. The Hawks won their first county championship in 2003 and steadily improved their win total each year, culminating in the 2A championship last season. Then, in 2007, Good Counsel relocated from Wheaton to Olney, completing the trio of high schools on Route 108.

In a game of six degrees of separation, it would not take long to connect the three programs outside of sharing a road.

Van Deusen and Thomas have a Western Maryland College connection. Van Deusen was a player there and graduated the year before Thomas came on as a coach. River Hill and Sherwood have scrimmaged each other the past three seasons.

Milloy was the head coach at Sherwood from 1991 to 2000, when he took over at Good Counsel. Thomas came back to high school coaching in 2004 as the Sherwood coach.

The argument against Route 108 being the power road in Maryland comes from I-270 a few miles west.

Looking at the I-270 corridor and the distance between schools -- using Urbana to the north and Gaithersburg to the south as the start and end points -- there are 17 miles and a number of schools to compare.

There is little doubt that the schools of Clarksburg, Damascus, Gaithersburg, Northwest, Quince Orchard, Seneca Valley and Urbana have been dominant state powers. Every school with the exception of Clarksburg has won a state championship in the past 10 years. Clarksburg made it to the Class 2A semifinals last season in only its second year as a program. From 1991 to 2008, schools located off I-270 have won 21 state championships.

But the I-270 schools are further apart and are not directly off the main road. By contrast, Good Counsel, Sherwood and River Hill are all visible without turning off Route 108.

Despite the emergence of the Route 108 schools, the three have only one championship between them in the past decade -- River Hill's state title last year. Sherwood won back-to-back 4A state titles in 1995 and '96 with Bob Milloy as head coach. Sherwood made it to the 4A title game in 2005 and '06, but did not win. Good Counsel has been in the WCAC finals each of the past four seasons, but has not defeated DeMatha for the crown yet.

That could change this year, since each school starts the playoffs as the favorite to win its respective title.

It could be a crowded road on Friday, when all three schools start the playoffs at home and all start around 7 p.m. River Hill plays host to Gwynn Park (of Prince George's County) at 7 p.m. ET. Sherwood plays host to Northwest at 7 p.m. ET, and Good Counsel plays host to Bishop McNamara at 7:30 p.m. ET.

Mike Loveday covers high school sports for ESPN RISE.