The Middletown High School football team will be making its third straight state final appearance on Saturday. But playing at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore and competing for a state crown, doesn't get less exciting, Knights senior fullback Jess Powell said.
Middletown, the defending state champion, will play Prince George's County's Frederick Douglass. The contest is a rematch of last year's state final (Middletown won 43-6).
The Knights (13-0), however, won't focus on the past. Powell and elusive senior running back Zach Welch agreed that the team must focus just on the task at hand.
The two have been the cornerstone of a Knights offense that has averaged 39.4 points per game.
Welch, who frequently runs through defenders, has 2,236 yards rushing and 29 touchdowns this fall. Powell's (895 yards, 15 touchdowns) running style is similar to Welch's.
Five different players have scored on the ground for Middletown and eight have caught touchdown passes.
While the Knights rely heavily on the run game, quarterback Tim Pirrone has thrown for 713 yards and 11 touchdowns with only one interception.
“Execution [is what makes Middletown so good]. They run what they run and they run it well,” Douglass coach JC Pinkney said. “Their offensive line seems to really understand their assignments. And that kid Zach Welch is just special.”
Though Middletown is likely in a class above any team Douglass (12-1) has played, the Eagles' defense has only allowed 8.1 points per game with seven shutouts.
Douglass' offense is also more balanced this year than last.
Freshman quarterback Devin Butler is at the center of the Eagles' attack, but Douglass has experience in several key roles.
Six-foot-5, 220-pound wide receiver Paul Harris, a University of Tennessee recruit, is at the top of that list.
Douglass also has several components to its ground game.
But Middletown's historically stingy defense has also been nearly impenetrable this year. The Knights have allowed only 10.2 points per game.
They've been all over opposing quarterbacks with 42 sacks. Ricky Leonard has nine of them along with a team-best 17.5 tackles for a loss.
“Having a defense that's been so stingy, it puts less pressure on the offense. For 39 years our program has prided itself on defense,” Middletown coach Kevin Lynott said. “It's a total team effort. That's the secret. All of these guys play together. They just worry about their own jobs and it all meshes together.”
Middletown is no stranger to the postseason, though last year was the Knights first state title.
Powell said the seniors want more than anything to cap their career with another victory.
“We know when we step onto the field, we know we're going to work for each other and have each other's backs,” Welch said.