How can they top this?
We posed that question last fall, after Wilde Lake's football team completed its first unbeaten season with an overtime victory over Damascus to win the Class 2A championship.
The Wildecats answered the question Saturday. With an amazing, come-from-behind script, Wilde Lake made history with a 13-10 victory over Smithsburg to win the 1A crown.
The record books show Wilde Lake winning two titles in a row, something only five other schools have managed in the 18-year history of Maryland's state high school football tournament. The books show the Wildecats winning back-to-back titles while going undefeated, which only two other schools have achieved.
The Wildecats, however, deserve at least an asterisk for the unforgettably dramatic way they won at the University of Maryland's Byrd Stadium.
Of all the memorable images the game produced, the most arresting was Wilde Lake running back Damon Hamlin, weeping alone on the sidelines, some 15 yards away from his teammates, after he had seemingly fumbled away Wilde Lake's title hopes midway through the fourth quarter.
Five minutes later, though, there was Hamlin again, getting what everyone covets at one time or another -- a second chance. And this time, Hamlin made the Leopards cry on a perfectly executed draw play with 1:01 left in the game.
The Wildecats, who looked like 10-7 losers following Hamlin's fumble, began a victory party.
"I wasn't going to let that (fumble) get me down long, but I was frustrated," Hamlin said. "But then I decided I wasn't going to feel sorry for myself, because I was playing for my 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."
And the Wildecats had shaken a team thathad finally put them to a test. While marching to a 12-0 record, recording eight shutouts and outscoring its opponents, 396-47, Wilde Lake had trailed only twice, both times in September, and never in the fourth quarter. Then, along came the Leopards (11-2) to show why they are four-time state champs and have been in the finals for four straight years under Coach Carroll Reid.
The game shouldn't have been close. From the outset, the quicker, more athletic Wildecats owned theline of scrimmage and dictated the pace.
Wilde Lake ran 69 plays to Smithsburg's 42, picked up 18 first downs to Smithsburg's four, and accumulated 296 yards to the Leopards' 68. Wilde Lake rushed for 243 yards, Smithsburg minus 6. Hamlin (117 yards on 19 carries) and Andre Martin (82 yards on 12) each out-gained the entire Smithsburg offense. Eight times the Wildecats drove into Leopards territory, four times inside their 20. The Leopards crossed midfield once.
"We just couldn't handle them on the line of scrimmage. They're too quick," said Reid, whose offense averaged nearly 300 yards coming into the game. "We've usually been able to control the ball a little bit. We couldn't even get three yards. I don't know if we made a first down, did we?"
But the Leopards made up for their lack of speed with smarts, discipline and tenacity. They intercepted Wilde Lake quarterback PhilWhite twice, once in the end zone. And they nearly stole the title on the night's most bizarre play.
Wilde Lake had converted Smithsburg's lone turnover -- a second-quarter fumble -- into its only touchdown and was leading 7-3. The Wildecats were driving inside the Leopards' 30 with just under seven minutes to play, trying once more to putthe game away.
Hamlin carried up the middle for seven yards, and appeared to be tackled. But suddenly, Smithsburg linebacker Tobby Williams emerged from the pile with the ball, ran across the field alongthe 20, eluded several Wilde Lake tacklers and turned up the right sideline. Eighty yards later, the Leopards held a 10-7 lead. The clockread 6:18.
And the Wildecats, who had every reason to blink, stared down the Leopards.
"We knew we were going to do it. Nobody got down. Everybody stayed level-headed," fullback Aric Swezy said. "It (Williams' theft) never got us down. We knew we had the time and the speed and the potential to come back. We had it in our minds that we were unbeatable."
"The first thing I thought (after the Hamlin fumble) was, 'Now, let's see what we're made of,' " Wilde Lake coach DougDuVall said.
The Wildecats promptly drove 43 yards to the Leopards' 43, using nearly four precious minutes, before Smithsburg's Jason Draper intercepted White's fourth-down pass at the Leopards 14. With 2:35 left, Wilde Lake had two timeouts left and just one chance left.All Smithsburg had to do was pick up one first down to run out the clock.