At the start of the season, most of the players and coaches on the Walkersville football team would have been happy with progress. The Lions had finished the previous two seasons at 2-8 and 5-5. Merely a winning season in 2015 would have been a logical and welcome step in the right direction for the program.
Nobody really saw this coming. The Lions are presently 11-2 and will play for the Class 2A championship Saturday night at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore. Their opponent in the state championship game, Patuxent, is also 11-2. Kickoff is slated for 7 p.m. This will mark Walkersville’ first appearance in a state title game since 1992. The Lions will be seeking their first state title since 1987.
Walkersville has made this run with a nice group of talented young players that has matured faster and played better than anyone could have initially anticipated, combined with a sprinkle of senior leadership. On the first day of practice, the Lions could barely execute a proper block. Now, they sit one win away from one of the most unlikely stories in Frederick County football history.
Friday’s 17-15 state-semifinal victory at previously unbeaten North Caroline was a fairytale in itself. Walkersville overcame two pivotal fumbles and a 12-7 deficit in the first half to post one of the most memorable win in school history. Junior Chad Gleason rushed for 142 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries and, after losing a fumble midway through the fourth quarter, set up the winning play with some great running on the final drive. With nine seconds remaining, sophomore kicker Noah Sadler made a 23-yard field goal from the left hash to clinch the victory and became an instant legend in his school.
So, a team that was the fourth and final seed in the Class 2A West regional playoffs has now, in three successive weeks, beaten top-seeded Oakland Mills, second-seeded South Carroll and unbeaten North Caroline, all on the road. Who could have guessed? They are the sixth Frederick County football team to reach a state final since 2009 and can become the fifth county champion in that six-year span, joining Catoctin (2009), Linganore (2009), Urbana (2010) and Middletown (2011-13).
In the final, the Lions will face a formidable team in Patuxent that will have the experience advantage on this stage. The Panthers have never won a state title, but they played in the 2A championship in 2013 before losing to Middletown, 17-3. With a handful of players still on the team from that season, Patuxent will be eager to make amends for that painful loss and break through for its first championship.
Walkersville will likely come into the game as the slight underdog. But, by now, the Lions are used to that role. Few believed they’d ever make it this far this season. Maybe the time to stop doubting them is now.