WESTMINSTER -- Little kids wanted his autograph. Cameramen and reporters needed his time. His coach wanted him to pose for a team picture under the scoreboard.
Everybody wanted to jump aboard the Larry Washington Express, Randallstown's ride to the Class 4A state title yesterday.
Washington, a 5-foot-10, 205-pound senior, rushed for 254 yards and three touchdowns on 25 carries, as Randallstown (13-0) defeated Wootton (12-1), 21-12, in the state championship before a crowd of nearly 5,000 at Westminster High.
"Without Larry, we would still have some pretty good players," said Rams linebacker Larry Sydnor, "but we wouldn't be the same team."
The Rams' showpiece had touchdown runs of 2, 52 and 8 yards and ran back a kickoff 38 yards, setting up the game-clinching touchdown. But it was the 52-yarder that stunned the crowd.
On the first offensive play of the second half, Washington took the ball off right guard at his 48 and was hit by three tacklers at the Wootton 30, a gang tackle that would have brought down most runners. Instead, Washington bounced off two, then ran over defensive back Messay Hailermariam en route to the touchdown that put Randallstown ahead, 14-6.
"Look at him over there, his tongue dry and hanging out," said John Buchheister, the Rams' first-year coach who won a state title at Milford Mill in 1987. "Sometimes I had to take him out of the game for a play or two just to get him a drink of water. He's willing to make the sacrifice."
Washington's resting spells almost cost Randallstown the game the second half. Midway through the third quarter, Washington had a 27-yard run around left end down to the Wootton 24-yard line. A play later, Buchheister pulled Washington for three plays, and the drive stalled at the Patriots 18.
On Randallstown's next possession, Washington ran 46 yards to the Wootton 38 late in the third quarter. Buchheister decided to replace him again, and the Rams advanced a grand total of 4 yards on the next two plays. The drive eventually stalled at the 33.
"We've been doing it that way [resting Washington] all year, and it usually works out," said Buchheister. Washington also starts at safety.
Wootton seemed inspired by stopping Randallstown on two consecutive drives, and the Rams, who have seven starters playing both on offense and defense, seemed tired.
Wootton, which has its own flashing runner in tailback Shawn Thomas, answered with a five-play, 80-yard touchdown drive that cut the Randallstown lead to 14-12 with 10 minutes, 6 seconds left in the game. Thomas, who scored on a 1-yard run in the second quarter, carried the ball on each down, ripping off a 33-yard touchdown run on a draw play down the left sideline.
But Randallstown refused to quit. Sydnor came up with the defensive play of the game when he stopped Thomas on a run around left end on the two-point conversion play.
"When you have as many people going both ways as we do, you have a tendency to get tired late in the game," said Sydnor. "I saw several of our players dragging. But we weren't going to let this game get away from us. We worked too hard to get to this point. I thought my play on Thomas was a big play."
But the biggest play came on the ensuing kickoff. The Patriots had kicked away from Washington all afternoon, but this time they kicked it straight down the middle to him.
Washington started to his right, shifted to his left, hit an extra gear around the corner and finally was stopped at the Wootton 49.
Nine plays later, the Rams scored again, as Washington took a dive play up the middle for an 8-yard touchdown run that put Randallstown ahead, 21-12, with 4:25 left in the game.
That touchdown virtually wrapped up the game and brought an end to Washington's high school career. Before yesterday's game, he had rushed for 2,022 yards and 31 touchdowns. Buchheister, the coach of the Baltimore County All-Stars in today's game against the Maryland Scholastic Association all-star squad at Poly (2 p.m.), said Washington, guard Brad Topchik and tackle Wallace Baker would not play.
"I was surprised they kicked off to me," said Washington. "Maybe they thought I was tired. But I know I'm the centerpiece of this offense and when it's time to go, I'm going to give it all I've got every time I carry the ball. Ever since I was a little kid, I wanted to be a champion. This is a great feeling. This is like a dream come true."
Not only for Washington, but for the entire Randallstown team. The Rams always have had excellent teams, dating back to coach Jim Higgins' teams in the 1970s.
But with a new coach, few -- with the possible exception of Washington -- expected the Rams to win a state title.
Buchheister certainly didn't.
"One of the coaches from the previous coaching staff told me that if we won two of our first three games, we might get to the playoffs," said Buchheister. "Then after we won our first three games, we thought the best team left that could beat us was Perry Hall. Then when we hit 10-0, reality set it. Hey, why not a championship?