Game fo their lives

Title contests produce lasting memories

Football Finales

December 08, 2007|By Kevin Van Valkenburg | Kevin Van Valkenburg,Sun Reporter

Watch this weekend's state championship football games at M&T Bank Stadium and you'll see tears of joy closely intertwined with tears of disappointment. You'll see how Maryland awards trophies to winners in four classifications.

What you won't see - but which is undeniably true - is how the outcome on the field is being indelibly burned into the minds of those athletes for years (and perhaps decades) to come, whether it is the satisfaction of a dream finally fulfilled or the sting and regret of how it could have somehow been different.

With less than 3 percent of prep athletes going on to play sports in college, the state title game often represents that last gasp of glory or the final humbling defeat in an athlete's life.

"This is the happiest moment of my life, and you can put that on record!" said Josh Fredrick, a thick-armed, baby-faced senior linebacker for Damascus High School, just minutes after his team finished off a convincing, 40-20 victory over Hereford in the Class 3A title game Thursday. Fredrick, who had his jersey's No. 54 shaved into the back of his mohawk haircut, forced a key fumble early that gave Damascus a two-touchdown lead. On a night when it was cold enough to see your breath float and curl like smoke in crisp December air, every mistake or big play drew a roar or a groan from the two crowds packed with students, parents, teachers and alums.

Hereford's cheerleaders, who painted players' maroon jersey numbers on their pink cheeks, pounded their mitten-clad hands together for much of the evening, pleading with their Bulls to put together a defensive stand. But Damascus was simply too strong on the ground, leaning on running back Evan Zedler, who smashed and bulldozed tacklers for 203 rushing yards. Kyle Frazier, the Hornets' lanky, soft-spoken quarterback, was a picture of cool, throwing for one touchdown and running for three.

"I've been playing with most of these guys since I was 8," Frazier said. "They've become like my best friends, every single one of them. I can remember in '03 when we were in eighth grade, we went onto the sidelines and watched [Damascus] win and said, `That's going to be us one day.' It's a very special moment in my life to win it as a senior, because we have nothing left to prove."

It was a very different scene on the Hereford sideline as the clock wound down and then in the locker room minutes later. Eyes welled up with tears, ice packs were distributed, coaches hugged players who had given it their all and asked them not to hang their heads. Bulls coach Steve Turnbaugh put his arms around the shoulders of one of his senior quarterbacks, Jason Fischer, and gently raised Fischer's chin off his chest.

"For a kid to play his last football game, win or lose, at M&T Bank Stadium is a memory that will last a lifetime," said a somber Turnbaugh, his graying hair peaking out from beneath his stocking cap. "Unfortunately, one team has to lose, whether you're playing in the Super Bowl or the state championship. It's still a fantastic experience with a lot of fond memories. Damascus was the better team. But our kids showed a lot of heart and guts."

Still, it's likely the disappointment will linger, followed by the brief thoughts of: What If? In the second quarter, trailing by seven points, Hereford had a man open deep, 10 yards behind the Damascus secondary, but Fischer's long pass trickled off the fingertips of his receiver and fell to the turf for an incompletion.

Writer and director Ron Shelton, best known for the movie Bull Durham, explored the very idea of "What If?" in the 1986 high school football film The Best of Times, staring Robin Williams and Kurt Russell. Williams' character, wide receiver Jack Dundee, spends years wondering how his life might have been different had he caught a touchdown in the biggest game of his senior year. In victory or defeat, the memories live on.

"You can be 50 years old and feel like you played that game yesterday," said Dan Makosy, Damascus' coach. Makosy has won three state titles, but also knows what it feels like to be on the other side, having lost in the title game in 2004. "When you lose the game, you just feel for the kids. They're crying and devastated. But once you win that title, you sit back and look at their faces and it's the most rewarding thing in the world."

For Richard Tyler, who played wide receiver on the 1991 Quince Orchard state championship team - the first won by that school - this weekend was an opportunity to relive some of those memories. He and some of his old teammates planned to travel to M&T Bank Stadium to watch this year's Quince Orchard team against Arundel last night and afterward reminisce about all those yesterdays of their youth.

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