As the Middletown High School football team lined up at midfield Saturday evening following its 30-12 victory over Prince George's County's Frederick Douglass in the Class 2A state championship game at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore for postgame handshakes, it was Knights junior Bradley Rinehart who led the way.
Behind him were the cornerstones of this year's second consecutive state championship run, senior running backs Zach Welch and Jess Powell. Welch finished the year with 30 touchdowns and 2,360 yards rushing and Powell contributed with 970 yards and 15 scores.
Coincidence? Maybe. Perhaps, it signified a passing of the proverbial torch to the Knights' next generation.
Rinehart, who caught two touchdown passes Saturday, was one of several returning players who made major contributions in the win.
Junior quarterback Tim Pirrone completed five of his 12 pass attempts for 74 yards and three touchdowns Saturday and also rushed for 39 yards.
In typical Kevin Lynott fashion, the fifth-year Knights coach was reluctant to comment on Middletown's future, opting to relish in the “here and now.”
That's always been his motto, he said.
“It doesn't matter where we are or who we're playing, it's always the here and now. Every time we step onto the field, we play Middletown football. We always play in the present,” Welch said.
The “here and now” was pretty spectacular Saturday evening.
But Rinehart said his mind was already geared toward next season's prospects. Pirrone added that his would likely be there by the morning as well.
The two lead a talented crop of juniors scheduled to return next fall, including much of the Knights' stingy defensive line along with running back Tim Schumacher, who scored four rushing touchdowns this season.
“Next year is not going to be about talent, it's going to be about how long it takes us to come together,” Pirrone said. “The sooner we come together, the better.”
Rinehart and Pirrone said they learned a lot from working alongside Welch and Powell. The two returning players credited their older teammates' leadership and work ethic with propelling the team and said they hope pass that on to next year's team.
“They were 100 percent all the time. Every play, every practice, 100 percent, and that reflects on everyone else. It causes a chain reaction. It made me want to play better,” Rinehart said.
Middletown will certainly have big shoes to fill next fall and finding the right combinations are sure to play a major role in the Knights' success.
But several integral pieces are already in place.
“Of the nine young men that are up here, six are juniors,” a Middletown assistant coach said. “So, you can take what you want from that.”