Making their deepest run in the Maryland state tournament since 1975, the Frederick Douglass Eagles were vying for their first-ever 2A championship.
But the night belonged to Middletown, as the Knights proved to be too much for the 2A South champions. Middletown captured its first state championship in school history, defeating the Eagles 43-6 at M&T Bank Stadium behind a 335-yard effort from its ground attack.
After conceding a late first half score to the Eagles, Middletown (13-1) led 16-6 at the half. The 2A West champions wasted little time getting going in the second half, and on the fourth play from scrimmage, Knights’ receiver Ben Lewis took an end-around toss and sprinted 53 yards for a touchdown to make the score 22-6, and they would not look back. Middletown’s defense would keep Douglass off the board for the remainder of the game while its offense would score touchdowns on its next three possessions, after which the continuous clock rule was invoked in the fourth quarter.
“They beat us on the sidelines and the playing field tonight,” Douglass coach Julius Pinkney said. “We did the best we could. It was not any lack of effort or any lack of scheming or anything like that. They made plays, and I tip my hat to them.”
Douglass’ lone bright spot came with less than three minutes left in the second quarter. Senior quarterback Taitor Reynolds led the Eagles (11-3, 8-1 PG 3A/2A/1A) to the Middletown 28-yard line in roughly two minutes. On the next play, Reynolds targeted Kyle Smith on a streak pattern towards the end zone. Smith adjusted to the ball in midair against tight coverage and made an exceptional catch for a 28-yard touchdown reception to put the Eagles on the board with 32 seconds left in the first half. Senior running back Emmanuel Smith’s two-point conversion failed, so the score remained 16-6.
Aside from that drive, Reynolds struggled against the Middletown defense, which pressured him from the pocket all night and kept him from getting into a rhythm. He only completed nine of 23 passes for 115 yards and two interceptions, and he was also sacked four times and lost a fumble on a handoff exchange. As a team, the Eagles gained a total of only 215 yards against the Knights’ 434.
“There was nothing that we had never seen before,” senior running back Josef Hinnant, who rushed for 44 yards on six carries, said. “They got the better of us today.”
In the first quarter, Douglass’ second drive stalled at midfield after a poor snap on the punt caused receiver/punter Paul Harris to try to run for the first down, but his running room ran out as the Knights’ Dan Goldstein chased him down and the Eagles turned the ball over on downs.
From there, Middletown moved the ball methodically down the field with a 50-yard drive culminating in running back/kicker Zach Welch’s first of three touchdown runs which put the Knights ahead 7-0. Welch would rush for a game-high 175 yards on 24 carries and would add a 27-yard field goal with 2:34 left in the first half to give Middletown a 16-0 lead.
“Those guys blocking in front of me are the best,” Welch said about his offensive line’s performance. “I just love running behind them. Any kind of hole they can get for me I’m going to make it through that and I’m going to do what I can do with it.”
With the win, Middletown claimed its first state title after finishing as the state runner-up twice in 2010 and 2002.
Although Douglass fell short of its ultimate goal, Pinkney expressed his gratitude for his team getting to the finals in what he describes as “an amazing accomplishment” made possible by a group of seniors that he feels grateful for having coached.
“They make practice fun, and they’re fun to be around,” Pinkney said. “I’m going to miss them personally. It’s not about the talent and what they bring. You always get that. But those kids in general, they’re just a blast to coach.”
Among those seniors is Reynolds, who reflected on his team’s closeness and fortitude during the grind of the season.
“It took a lot of hard work and this team had to be resilient,” Reynolds said. “I’m going to miss the camaraderie I have with the guys since we’re together 24/7. It’s a true bonding moment for the team and I think it brought us close throughout the season and that’s why we were able to get so far with such a young squad.”
“I think everyone’s upset that we lost but they also understand that this is the last time that this team will assemble to play football and that probably will disturb us a little more than anything about the loss,” Pinkney added.
As for what lies ahead for the Eagles, Pinkney had not yet looked ahead. While junior linebacker Matthew Paul currently serves as the backup quarterback, Pinkney is aware that between the end of the season and the start of camp next season, anything can change.
“Right now, I don’t know,” he said. “We always find a way to work it out.”