J. Suter Kegg breaks down the trials and tribulations of the 1975 state championship season


J. Suter Kegg's - Tapping the Keg
Cumberland Evening Times - November 24, 1975

HEY, WHAT DO YOU THINK about that football situation at Fort Hill?

Three months ago, even before the high school football season had begun, questions like the one above were being asked throughout the area. There were stories about players quitting the squad in wholesale numbers shortly after practice started in mid-August. Charley Lattimer, the school's veteran head coach, didn't deny that some players had quit. "It's nothing to be concerned about; happens every year," he explained. "The ones who quit wouldn't have played anyway."

Those who stayed, however, have made it impossible to single out any player for an award - if there would be one given by the school - to "the boy who wouldn't quit." That honor would have to be shared by every gridder on the squad because those "boys who wouldn't quit" made history by becoming the first Cumberland schoolboy team to win a dozen games in a season and the first one to cop a state championship.

This is the same Sentinel squad that lost through injuries three players for the season even before a game was played. Bob Hadra, a defensive back, sustained a broken neck while Dave Bittner, an offensive guard and linebacker, and Larry Chucci, a guard suffered knee injuries. Hadra and Bittner had already been assured of starting positions at the time.

These key injuries, plus losses through attrition, didn't exactly cause Lattimer to push the panic button but it did document the need for a new evaluation of the team's personnel by the coaching staff. As it turned out, the injuries, critical as they were, came early enough for replacement players to solidify themselves before the season started.

While the best-laid plans of mice and men often go astray, Lattimer had seen enough of determination, ability and good old gut football from the Sentinels to convince himself that Fort Hill had itself some championship material. "I saw this in a pre-season scrimmage we had with James Wood High at Winchester," he recalled. Despite being riddled by injuries and dead-wood chopping, the Sentinel squad of 30 was quite impressive in that scrimmage.

"Our kids seemed to be awed by the fact that James Wood had about 80 players dressed while we didn't have even half that many," said Lattimer. "I told them not to be overwhelmed by numbers because each team could play only 11 boys at a time."

The same situation prevailed through ten regular-season games and two in the playoffs which resulted in a sweep of title honors, capped by Saturday's big 34-8 conquest of Douglass at Oxon Hill for the Maryland Class A championship.

"I think the record we had speaks well for the caliber of football played in Western Maryland," Lattimer noted yesterday, 18 hours after the frenzy of Saturday night's big downtown welcome for the Red Raiders. "We had what I consider the toughest schedule ever for a Fort Hill team. We beat two Baltimore schools and a Washington team. Three of those victories were over double-A schools and the last two over the best "A" teams in the state.

FORT HILL COULD HAVE had a letdown against Douglass in the wake of that emotion-draining victory in double overtime against Northwood the week before. But the Sentinels, as is the case with Lattimer coached teams, went into the championship contest well prepared.

The Red Raiders, sparked by their awesome offense featuring the record-breaking touchdown running of Steve Trimble and the pulverizing blocking of Lyle Peck, got the early impetus against Douglass. And it was given to them by the defense, resulting from a tip picked up by members of the Sentinel staff in scouting the Douglass team.

Noting that the center of the Eagles had a habit of lifting the ball forward before snapping it on punts, the Sentinel staff assigned nose guard Randy Hillegas to the task of foiling the system. Hillegas practiced all week on his assignment of kneeling in front of the center and slapping at the ball as soon as it came off the ground. He even worked on the maneuver in the locker room before the game.

The game was only minutes old when "Fort Hillegas" got his chance. Failing to move the ball on the first possession, the Eagles went into punt formation but the ball never got to the kicker. Hillegas carried out his assignment, getting his hands under the ball which squirted off in the direction of a surprised blocking back. He was stopped in his tracks and Fort Hill had the ball deep in Douglass territory.

Then came phase No. 2 in the Sentinel plan. With Douglass deployed to stop the wide, wide world of Trimble, Fort Hill quarterback Chuck Spangler went up the middle for 19 yards and a touchdown. The Upper Marlboro team never recovered from that bit of lightning and Fort Hill was on its way to state supremacy.

If there is a key to the 12-0 record Lattimer feels it lies in unity. "I don't think I've ever seen such a close-knit group of players in my 20 years of coaching," he said. "These kids are very unselfish and it paid off as a team."

The year will long be remembered as "PT (Peck, Trimble) '75" because Peck's blocking and Trimble's scintillating running were the heart of the attack. But the Sentinels had it all in every phase with the possible exception of its kicking game.

And they had to make use of everything they had because of the pressure of a rugged schedule and the fact that Frederick's Thomas Johnson was always breathing down their necks.

Fortunately, the only injuries sustained by Fort Hill's "boys who wouldn't quit" were those prior to the season. They did, however, lose Mark Paupe, their do-it-all quarterback, late in the season with mononucleosis, but Spangler stepped into his shoes and filled them like a veteran.

The unparalleled success enjoyed by Fort Hill is, needless to say, the highlight of Lattimer's long coaching career although he knows the sweetness of a state championship, having been on a Fort Hill basketball team that copped a state crown.

"I think I savor this more, though," said the man who made "PT '75" a virtual destroyer on the stormy football seas. "And I'm happy that Ridgeley also won the state championship of West Virginia. It's truly a year to remember. Our records (both schools were 12-0) can be tied but can't be broken unless the state playoff format is changed."