Wilde Lake football coach Doug DuVall needed nearly two decades to achieve his ultimate goal.
That seems hard to believe, since DuVall has been producing championship-caliber teams at Wilde Lake for most of his 17-year tenure.
Coming into the 1990 season, the Wildecats had won or shared seven of the last 10 county championships, and had won a state title in 1985.
But DuVall and the Wildecats outdid themselves this year by winning their second state championship, and by doing it with a touch of perfection. When Raphael Wall scored a 4-yard touchdown in overtime against Damascus (Montgomery County) last week, the Wildecats completed a 13-0 season and became the first Wilde Lake team to go undefeated.
DuVall then declared them the best Wilde Lake team ever.
"This is the high point for me," said DuVall, The Howard County Sun's Coach of the Year. "This team was a lot like the '85 team (which went 11-2), but this one had a little more legitimate talent. Plus, this team won it all, so that puts them a notch above."
DuVall, like any coach, depends heavily on the talent of his players and assistant coaches. And the supply of both has been rich at Wilde Lake over the years, where DuVall has amassed a 135-34 career record (.799 winning percentage), averaging eight wins over 17 seasons.
This year's Wildecats brought a potent combination of size, speed, skill and depth to bear on their competition, and overmatched it at the county level each week.
After a flawless 3-0 non-league season -- which included a surprisingly easy 28-7 victory over Baltimore County power Perry Hall -- the Wildecats outscored their seven league opponents by a combined 248-22.
They recorded four shutouts and won by an average of 32 points, routinely putting teams away by halftime. Their closest margin of victory came in the final regular-season game, an 18-0 victory over Oakland Mills that clinched Wilde Lake's eighth county title in 11 years. The game wasn't close.
Throughout those 10 weeks, the Wildecats never came close to a letdown.
They never trailed in a game. Their defense, which allowed just 3.5 points a game, never surrendered a rushing touchdown. Their offense, led by an excellent line and the explosive Wall (1,546 yards, 10.4 yards per carry, 25 TDs), rolled up over 350 yards and 35 points a game. They rarely made mistakes, averaging less than a turnover per game, while forcing over three.
It all happened each week like clockwork.
"The kids set that goal in the beginning of the season," DuVall said.
"The real thrill was to come out of the precounty season without losing a game, then go through the county and not lose a game, then beat Oakland Mills resoundingly at their place. After that, the kids were rolling."
DuVall, with all his planning, recruiting and coaching skill, also had luck on his side this fall. The Wildecats never suffered an injury serious enough to cost anyone playing time. "I don't think we even came up with a bad sprain," he said. "That's a first."
With all their skill, Wilde Lake didn't need much luck. They proved that in the season's second week. Without All-County quarterback Phil White and nose guard Tony Farace -- who were suspended from playing that game for disciplinary reasons -- the Wildecats still beat Perry Hall handily.
The Wildecats passed their toughest tests in their final two games.
They gave up their first rushing touchdown and had to come from behind for the first time in the 2A semifinals against Douglass (Prince George's County) before prevailing, 14-12. And in the finals against Damascus, the Hornets drove 90 yards -- longest against Wilde Lake this year -- to score the game-tying touchdown in the fourth period, before the Wildecats won it in OT.
And throughout the year, Wilde Lake showed it had much more than two stars in Wall and strong safety Ricky Rowe. Lightly regarded players made their presence known.
Players like wide-out/safety Adam Tyer, who was never beaten in pass coverage all season and caught a critical touchdown pass against Oakland Mills. Or linebacker Ben Casella, who averaged 39.5 yards a punt and saved his best performance for the state championship game. He intercepted a pass in the fourth quarter, then recovered a fumble to set up Wall's game-winning score. Or Farace, a first-year varsity player who, at 160 pounds, became one of the league's top nose guards.
"Team first, me second. That's our motto," said DuVall, who plans to return next season, when Wilde Lake drops to Class 1A and figures to be the class of the division.