1997 State Champs


When all else fails, there's always belief
Mike Burke
Cumberland Times-News
December 1, 1997

COLLEGE PARK - If Charlie Lattimer, the former Fort Hill football coach really did make a deal with the devil 22 years ago, the contract expired at halftime of Saturday's Maryland Class 2A state championship game at Byrd Stadium.

After the Fort Hill Sentinels had fumbled away scoring opportunities inside or around the Dunbar 20, the Poets appeared ready to get into the end zone late in the second quarter, moving the ball 43 yards thanks in large part to a 24-yard gain by Dahnel Singfield on a botched punt attempt.

But five plays later, Noah Read made the pivotal play of the game for the Sentinels, picking off a DeNelle Hale pass at the Fort Hill 14 and returning it 24 yards to the 38 with 2:24 left in the half.

Three times the Sentinels were inside the Dunbar 20, and three times they came away with nothing. And if the foreshadowing wasn't gloomy enough, Read, one of the flat-out best football players Fort Hill has ever had, was finished for the day with what was believed to be a broken fibula.

But it is at halftime of championship games when would-be champions make the decision to take the final step in becoming a championship team. Fort Hill did that on Saturday, deciding to stay with its successful defensive scheme but altering its offensive stratagem to three basic plays: off-tackle, fullback trap and quick pitch.

"Run behind me," 6-5, 250-pound tackle Jeff Burgess demanded of Fort Hill assistant coach Jim Snyder. "I'm handling that guy."

There was never any deal with the devil 22 years ago, although South Cumberland football fans are probably still hard pressed to believe it. But why would Lattimer have to make such a deal when he had a line of Bruce Metz, Randy Hillegas, Dick Wheeler, Dudley Holliday, Wyatt Durst and Mike Hast, and a backfield of Steve Trimble and Lyle Peck?

Not only was that a talented collection of football players, but it was a determined and knowing group of players.

That group knew it was going to win the state championship just as Burgess and linemates Jonathan James, Gary Ritchie, Bill Harvey, Robert Dettinburn, Rick Jenkins and John Squires knew it was going to win on Saturday. Such knowledge is attainable when you're blocking for seniors Josh Page and Trae Foster and junior Jordan Hamilton, who would fill in wonderfully for the departed Read.

A season that began with a 16-point victory over Dunbar, D.C. would end with a 16-point victory over Dunbar, Baltimore as Fort Hill ran Page off-tackle and on the trap, and Hamilton on the quick pitch.

A state championship season ended successfully because Mike Page, Tommy Welsh and Jenkins continued to make big plays defensively; because cornerback Jared Fradiska, just as his classmate Hamilton did, filled in admirably for Read; and it ended successfully because this team became frustrated just enough in itself to efficiently take it out on the Poets, who were beginning to believe they had dodged enough bullets themselves to gain the Sentinels' number.

Head coach Mike Calhoun said his senior class set the state championship as its top goal because, in part, it was sick and tired of hearing about Fort Hill not being able to win one.

"Even as juniors," Calhoun said, "this group has had a knack for deciding what they want and having the ability and the know-how in going out and getting it. And I think you saw tonight how that work ethic and belief affected the juniors who had to come in and do the job themselves."

Neither should we sell short the efforts of Calhoun and his coaching staff. Barry Lattimer, John Alkire, Snyder, Dee Kalbaugh and Todd Appel. There isn't a better coaching staff in the state of Maryland.

To a man they have said all season long it has been nothing but a pleasure to work with this team. Saturday night, by winning the state championship, the Fort Hill Sentinels let their coaches know the feeling was mutual.