Middletown High School senior Zach Welch hurt his knee in the third quarter of Saturday's Class 2A state championship football game, and though he returned, the injury still limited him. Much to Welch's dismay, Middletown's coaching staff kept him on the sideline with the ball near the goal line during a late drive.
He paced. He pleaded. He waved his arms.
None of it helped.
“It wasn't even just for a carry,” Welch said. “It didn't matter what play we were running. I just wanted to be on the field. I just love being on that field with my brothers and my family.”
In the end, it didn't matter. Middletown's do-everything star found a new role: water boy. He unscrewed Gatorade bottles and handed them to teammates so Middletown coach Kevin Lynott would get a celebratory shower. Middletown's 30-12 victory over Frederick Douglass gave the program its second straight state title.
Middletown's motto has been “Finish 14,” and Saturday's game — the third straight year Middletown's season has ended at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, including a loss to McDonough in 2010 and a win against Frederick Douglass last season — gave this Middletown team a 14-0 record.
“I think, every year, 'Finish 14' has a different meaning,” Lynott said. “I believe our guys in 2010 did finish 14 the best we could. Last year, first state championship. This year, it's the perfect dream, and that's the 14 and 0.”
The game also nearly included the perfect play — one that encompasses why Middletown has won 22 straight games.
Middletown blocked a field goal late in the second quarter and Cody Martin returned the ball 97 yards for an apparent touchdown.
“We stress the little things of being smart and plays like that,” Lynott said. “We fully knew that was a live football.”
But the officials ruled an inadvertent whistle had blown, negating the return though still counting the blocked field goal. Lynott called timeout and spoke with the referees on the field.
“It's our ball,” Lynott said in a calming voice as he returned to the sideline, completely ignoring the return that had been taken away.
Still, Lynott said the halftime mood was like a “funeral,” despite Middletown's 9-0 lead. But the attitude changed quickly.
“We were meeting as coaches and we come in, and I hear the guys just talking about, going, 'We're going to be OK. We're alright,'” Lynott said.
That's the preparation, the focus, the mental toughness that Middletown has shown week after week.
Before its championship last season, no team had lost more state finals before winning one than Middletown, which finished as state runner-up in 2010, 2002, 1991 and 1981. Now, with two straight titles, any lingering doubt about Middletown's ability to compete at the highest level has been put to rest.
“We've taken another step as a program,” Lynott said.
Frederick Douglass (12-2), on the other hand, has now lost three state title games without a championship — including 1975 and a 43-6 loss to Middletown last season.
“I'm definitely proud,” Douglass coach J.C. Pinkney said. “Any time you can get here — this school has been on hiatus on this for 30-some years. To make it back-to-back seasons, I already know we're doing the right things and ours guys are doing what they need to do.”
Lynott, sharing the crowded stage with nine of his players, also commended his players.
Welch ran for 124 yards and one touchdown, but he had plenty of help. Tim Pirrone threw touchdown passes to Bradley Rinehart (two) and Sean Wenner. Jess Powell ran for 75 yards and the defense held Frederick Douglass to 53 rushing yards.
Welch's toughness, in many ways, was the catalyst for all of it, Lynott said.
“If a bone was sticking out, I probably still wouldn't be worried, even though it's probably not going to be popular for him to play or me to say,” Lynott said. “But, that guy, you'd have to get the [security guards] to pull him off that field.”
Somehow, Lynott held Welch out of those late goal line plays, but that didn't dim a total team effort.
How did this championship compare to last season?
“It's just as great,” Welch said with a grin. “Maybe a little better.”
Middletown 30, Frederick Douglass 12
Frederick Douglass (12-2) 0 0 12 0 — 12
Middletown (14-0) 0 9 14 7 — 30
M — Sean Wenner 11 pass from Tim Pirrone (kick failed)
M — Zach Welch 23 field goal
M — Zach Welch 2 run (Zach Welch kick)
M — Bradley Rinehart 18 pass from Tim Pirrone (Nick Welch kick)
D — Demory Monroe 59 pass from Devin Butler (pass failed)
M — Bradley Rinehart 17 pass from Tim Pirrone (Nick Welch kick)
D — Devin Butler 5 run (run failed)
Frederick Douglass — Devin Butler 8-24; Charles Davis 3-9; Devonte Williams 3-8; Paul Harris 2-8; D'ondre Mackey 5-4 .
Middletown — Zach Welch 31-124; Jess Powell 11-75; Tim Pirrone 12-39; Mitch Sgrignoli 1-15; Cody Martin 1-9; Bradley Rinehart 3-7.
Frederick Douglass — Devin Butler 7-26-173-0.
Middletown — Tim Pirrone 5-13-74-2; Bradley Rinehart 0-1-0-0.
Frederick Douglass — Demory Monroe 6-164; Marc Dickens 1-9.
Middletown — Bradley Rinehart 2-35; Jess Powell 1-18; Sean Wenner 1-11; Mitch Sgrignoli 1-10.