Every year of covering high school sports has its special moments. Watching teenagers win titles and reach milestones they will treasure all their lives is perhaps the most rewarding part of the job.
It's easy to get caught up in a playoff drive. It's inspiring to see players realize they can accomplish more as a team than a collection of individuals. It's thrilling to watch the truly gifted athlete who can take over a game.
In 2013, there were many of these moments, too many to list, but here are a few of the ones that stood out as I look back on my beats over the last year -- football, girls basketball and girls lacrosse.
MOST IMPRESSIVE PLAYOFF RUN
Franklin football rolls to first state championship
Sometimes a team just gets rolling and there's a sense of destiny about it. Franklin's football team exuded that aura more and more as the playoffs went on this fall.
The season didn't start out with the words Franklin and state champion in the same breath. The Indians lost their season opener to Calvert Hall, 28-14, and after an impressive 42-6 win over Hereford, they fell to Perry Hall, 21-7. Heading into October, they were 2-2, but they would not lose again, building up steam with a 35-18 win over Milford Mill late in October.
Once the playoffs started, they cruised, building confidence as they beat Westminster, 49-14, and then Milford Mill, 49-14.
Quarterback Jacquez Adams had the offense humming, hitting targets such as his twin brother Jordan Adams or Steven Smothers. Darius Hinton led the rushing attack. The offensive and defensive lines proved stalwart and the defense, led by linebacker Bruce Damon, held the opposition to 42 points in four playoff games.
The Indians hit the road to Huntingtown in Calvert County for the state semifinals and routed the Hurricanes, 49-7. Jacquez Adams threw for 337 yards and six touchdowns.
On to states at M&T Bank Stadium and the No. 5 Indians were confident as ever. Jacquez Adams hit Smothers with a 27-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-20 late in the third quarter for a 14-7 lead over Linganore. Smothers just managed to get a foot inbounds as he fell on his back out the side of the end zone and that catch provided the offensive jolt to power a 20-7 victory and put the Class 3A state title plaque in the Reisterstown school's trophy case.
MOST DRAMATIC FINISHES
Marriotts Ridge girls lacrosse needs 4OT to shake archrival Mount Hebron
Thanks goodness for Zoe Stukenberg or I might still be standing on the sideline at Marriotts Ridge watching the No. 8 Mustangs scuffle with No. 7 Mount Hebron. The senior midfielder, now at Maryland, finally ended 13 minutes and 47 seconds of overtime by weaving through the defense to find an opening for the game winner and a 13-12 victory in the battle of Howard County rivals.
Stukenberg also assisted Jenna Kerr's buzzer-beating goal that tied the game at 12 in the first overtime to finish with six goals and three assists. Mount Hebron's Sam Brookhart, who gave Mount Hebron a 12-11 lead with 10.6 seconds left in the first overtime, matched Stukenberg with six goals.
The Mustangs also defeated the Vikings in the regional playoffs, this time 11-8, and went on to win the state Class 3A-2A title, 15-5, over Century. Stukenberg, the All-Metro Player of the Year, had three goals and six assists in the title game.
Douglass football slips by Edmondson in 2OT for Class 1A South regional title
The No. 14 Mighty Ducks came within about six inches of possible elimination from the playoffs in their regional championship game against Baltimore City rival Edmondson. In the second overtime, Edmondson went first and quarterback Daniel Williams made it inside the 1-yard line, but Douglass's Donyae Moody forced a fumble and the Ducks recovered.
In a game that featured 11 turnovers, Douglass made the most of that one, moving 10 yards for the score thanks in part to a late hit called against the Red Storm for plowing down Ducks quarterback Camron West. West then handed off to Da'Quan Alexander for the game-winning touchdown and a 20-14 victory that sent the Ducks (13-1) to the state tournament for the first time in school history.
MOST DOMINATING TEAM