When football coaches Dale Sprague and Jim Margraff worked a camp together at Western Maryland College last summer, they knew their football teams would be meeting in the last game of the season.
That game is Saturday, when Western Maryland (6-2-1, 5-1) plays Johns Hopkins (4-4-1, 3-2-1) at Homewood Field.
Western Maryland needs to win to ensure its first Centennial Conference title in the league's eight-year history, and Hopkins needs a victory for a winning season.
"In the summer, aside from this team, nobody in his wildest imagination thought Western Maryland would be playing for a title this season," Hopkins coach Margraff said yesterday.
Said Western Maryland coach Sprague: "We talked about it in preseason, that it was a great game, but not meaningful. We couldn't wait for a time when it would decide the championship, but I didn't think Dale would take it this seriously."
For a change, both sides are taking it very seriously, and nowhere is that reflected better than in the outlooks of two senior four-year starters, quarterback Mike Hamm of Western Maryland and two-way lineman Frank Gangemi of Johns Hopkins.
"This is the first time this game has meant anything, and we don't want to be the ones to lose it," Gangemi said. "The coaches say you always remember the last one, and we want to go out winners."
Said Hamm: "The conference title is the biggest incentive, but after losing to Hopkins each of the last three years [the streak is seven], I believe we have the confidence and the ability to get the job done."
"Before the season started," Sprague said, "I thought we had the potential to be good if our defense got better and the offense controlled the football -- and that's the way it has gone."
Hamm, 5 feet 11, 175 pounds, said he knew his team would turn things around in time. "Really, I hoped it would come before my senior year," he said. "Any successful team needs a strong foundation, and that was lacking when I got here. Through Coach Sprague, it has been built up each year, and now we are solid.
"For this year, I like to think my poise has helped. People say I'm not emotional, but I am. It's just that I get excited inside."