The Middletown mantra this season was the ground and pound offense, wearing teams down while rushing for 243 yards per game and beating opponents by an average of 33 points.
That formula had led the Knights to a 35-game win streak and two consecutive state titles entering Saturday's state Class 2A football championship.
But it was the passing game that led Middletown to a 17-3 win over Calvert County's Patuxent Panthers, earning the Knights yet another 2A title.
Knights quarterback Tim Pirrone completed 10-of-15 passes for 102 yards, exploiting the Panthers on multiple play-action passes for pivotal third-down conversions and the team's first quarter touchdown.
"We practiced passing a lot more this week because we knew that the other team thought we were just a run team," Pirrone said. "So, we wanted to show them that we could do both."
Running back Brad Rinehart added a 1-yard touchdown with 57 seconds left to finally put the game away for good. He was held to 35 yards on 17 carries.
"I kind of felt like they had my number the whole game, but we stuck in there and just kept pushing," Rinehart said. "This is something I will take with me for the rest of the life and will never forget."
Middletown has won the last three Class 2A state titles and has played in the last four. Its win streak — now at 36 — is guaranteed to remain intact for at least another nine months.
"We always say when we win a state championship, every Knight wins a state championship," Middletown coach Kevin Lynott said. "To be here, every time we come here, it's like the first time."
The offense did just enough to win while its stingy defense held strong. Patuxent was driving with less than six minutes left in the final quarter and had reached Middletown territory. However, the defense forced fourth-and-8, and Panthers senior halfback Rafiq Douglas dropped what would have been a first-down pass.
Middletown kept the pressure on Patuxent all afternoon, thanks to the play of two seniors in their last championship before joining the NCAA Division I ranks.
Florida State commit Rick Leonard, a 6-foot-7, 260-pound defensive end, had three sacks and multiple tackles for loss. With Patuxent driving late in the third quarter, Leonard sacked quarterback Tyler Crounse to force a field goal try.
Leonard's first sack set up a third-and-15 early in the first quarter. On the very next play, Clemson-bound Justin Falcinelli — 6-foot-4, 300 pounds — burst through the line and pressured Crounse.
The Panthers quarterback frantically threw the ball to the sideline but it was picked off by the Knights' Tim Schumacher. The pick would be the first of three Crounse would throw in the game.
Pirrone's first-quarter touchdown, a 6-yard pass to Peter Heon, came soon after.
"We have to get our defense off the field on third down," Leonard said. "It's a team effort, not just one person sacking the quarterback. It's the entire defensive line pushing."
M 10 0 0 7 -- 17
P 0 0 3 0 -- 3
M-Nick Welch 29-yard field goal
M-Tim Pirrone 6-yard pass to Peter Heon (Welch extra point good)
P-Eric Chaconas 33-yard field goal
M-Brad Rinehart 1-yard run (Welch extra point good)