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A U.S. flag covers the field as the National Anthem is sung before the game. The Virginia Tech Hokies lead the Cincinnati Bearcats, 13-10, in the first half of the 2014 Military Bowl game Saturday at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
A U.S. flag covers the field as the National Anthem is sung before the game. The Virginia Tech Hokies lead the Cincinnati Bearcats, 13-10, in the first half of the 2014 Military Bowl game Saturday at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.(By Paul W. Gillespie, Staff / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Eleven years ago, two county football teams earned the right to play in state championship games at Baltimore's M&T Bank Stadium.

The atmosphere was like no other Carroll football has seen, even with both teams losing their respective finals. The turnout for each county squad, South Carroll and Westminster, was impressive. The Cavaliers played during the day, the Owls at night. Westminster took Gwynn Park into double overtime before falling 20-14 in the Class 3A final; SC didn't fare as well against Potomac in the 2A title game, a 38-3 defeat.

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M&T Bank was a fine host; players and coaches had use of NFL locker rooms and field access, a treat in their sport, being in the same realm as their professional heroes. But even with the perks of playing where the Ravens reside, something has never felt quite right about having the biggest high school football games of the year at a big, cavernous stadium.

So, Monday's news of the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association's moving this year's state finals in early December to Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis struck me this way:

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It's about time.

The move is happening in part because the Ravens installed grass turf during the offseason, and the thought of four high school games in three days just before the Miami Dolphins come to town Dec. 4 didn't sit well with the team's powers that be. A valid reason, and a good enough opportunity to begin a new tradition.

M&T Bank Stadium held the state finals for 14 years. Let's take the games to a new joint, one with a slightly smaller house but one that can still deliver the teams involved an outstanding experience.

Heading to Navy is a good start, but even this year's change isn't final. If the Midshipmen host their conference championship game, Dec. 2, another plan needs to be ready. Still, it will provide the basis for a college-like environment.

And after all, isn't that what the high school players and their families should be getting if and when those players take their talents to the next level?

Of course.

Don't get me wrong — it was pretty sweet to see two county football teams play on the same day at M&T Bank Stadium. And fans came in droves from Carroll to support them. Westminster's faithful nearly filled the entire side of the stadium's lower level.

But it took only one look skyward to see a problem. An entire level of purple seats, and nary a backside in any of them.

It makes sense not to sell the upper deck; pack the lower level to make things seem full and create some buzz. Bands were playing, cheerleaders urging spectators to make noise. It can be quite raucous.

All well and good, but it's just too much at big ol' M&T Bank. Moving things to a college stadium will make things more comfortable for everyone involved.

Fans will have a chance to fill the entire seating area (OK, not at 38,000-seat Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, but you get the point).

Imagine if, say, Towson (capacity 11,200) or Morgan (10,000) hosted the games. The Class 4A state finals could be epic.

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And that's not to say a Fort Hill or a Middletown or, yes, a South Carroll or Westminster, wouldn't represent to the fullest.

The move also gives a few hundred players a possible glimpse at their football lives after high school.

Let's be honest — the chances of them playing at M&T Bank Stadium in a real game? Far less than actually seeing action at a McDaniel, Morgan, Towson, or Navy.

(Keep Maryland Stadium, football home of the Terps and now surpassing 51,000 seats, out of the equation.)

You'll still be giving teams a fun, exciting night in a state championship event. And now it will take place at site better suited to host such important high school sporting events.

Yes, playing in the state championship game shouldn't just be about the venue. Getting a chance to play in the game is an honor, whether it's at M&T Bank or Johnny Unitas Stadium or Ruby Field.

But be thankful the Ravens' concerns over their new natural playing surface started in motion the right path for state football finals of the present and future to have a more meaningful address.

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