COLLEGE PARK -- For a few brief minutes, Wilde Lake High running back Damon Hamlin was the loneliest player in Byrd Stadium. Minutes later, he was strolling around as if he owned the place.
Hamlin, a senior, was the hero, scoring on a 17-yard draw play with 1 minute, 1 second left, as Wilde Lake defeated Smithsburg, 13-10, to win the state Class 1A football championship yesterday.
The victory capped a superb season for Wilde Lake and marked only the seventh time in the history of the state playoffs that a school has won consecutive state titles. Wilde Lake (13-0), which completed its second unbeaten season and extended its winning streak to 26 games yesterday, won Class 2A last year.
"This may not be the greatest football team I've ever coached, but I've never seen a team show so much character in one game," said Wilde Lake coach Doug DuVall.
DuVall was talking about his defense, led by linemen Blaise Connelly-Duggan, Tony Farace, James Easterly and linebackers Brent Guyton and Nathan Casella, which held Smithsburg's offense, averaging nearly 33 points and 300 yards, to one scoring drive. DuVall also was referring to his offense, which pushed the Leopards all over the field, including the game-winning drive.
And, of course, he was referring to Hamlin.
With 6:22 left, the ball was taken away from Hamlin by defensive back Tobby Williams after a run. Williams snatched it out of Hamlin's arm and outran everyone down the sideline for an 80-yard touchdown to give Smithsburg (11-2) a 10-7 lead.
"I just took it, but I didn't think I was going to score a touchdown," said Williams. "Once I did, I thought the game was over. I didn't think they could come back."
Initially, Wilde Lake didn't. The Wildecats' next possession ended at the Leopards' 43, and the Wildecats' eventual game-winning drive started at Smithburg's 33 with 1:25 remaining, courtesy of a 15-yard penalty because of a late hit on a punt return.
Wilde Lake quarterback Phil White threw two incomplete passes before a 16-yard completion to Steve Alleyne. On the next play, Hamlin broke free at the line of scrimmage and was not touched until he crossed the goal line.
"I wasn't going to let that get me down long, but I was frustrated," said Hamlin, who had rushed for 1,250 yards before yesterday. "But then I decided I wasn't going to feel sorry for myself, because I was playing for the team, the coaches, the school and our supporters. I wanted the ball bad. I wanted to show people the real me as a running back. When I crossed that goal line, the redemption was complete."
Actually, Wilde Lake had several opportunities to score earlier in the game, but failed on drives that reached as far as the Smithsburg 28 and 15 in the first half.
The latter drive ended with Smithsburg cornerback Jason Draper intercepting White's pass intended for Alleyne in the end zone with 6:32 left in the half.
Wilde Lake, though, recovered a Smithsburg fumble on the next play. The Wildecats then went 18 yards in four plays, with Hamlin running 3 yards for the touchdown on second-and-goal.
"It was a great game, and we played a great team," said DuVall. "I thought we outplayed them most of the game, but made some mistakes that hurt us. Fortunately, these guys were able to reach down and pull it out."
Smithburg's other score was a 32-yard field goal by Richard Daughtridge with 11:15 left in the third period.
Smithsburg 0 0 3 7 -- 10
Wilde Lake 0 7 0 6 -- 13
Hamlin 3 run (Smith kick)
S--Daughtridge 32 FG
S--Williams 80 run (Daughtridge kick)
WL--Hamlin 17 run (kick failed)