Kessler had a number of new and inexperienced players when the season began. And the returners were on a Raiders team that lost five of eight regular-season games last year and was then eliminated in its opening playoff game.
But Kessler and his assistant coaches Liam Pearl, Joe Liska, and Tim Doyle did their best to whip them into shape. Of course he wouldn't know how well he and his staff had done that until they started playing games. He felt uncertain as the opening game approached.
"Did we prepare these people for the first game? That always crosses your mind," he said.
"But after that first game, I felt that they had grasped it."
He had good reason to. That first game saw Sykesville top Olney 22-6.
After that, the Raiders went on an undefeated roll. They had shutouts in eight of their next ten games including both postseason tiffs. Their defense allowed only 26 points the entire year.
Not surprisingly, Kessler cites that defense as being the key to his team's success. He also credits the players' work ethic.
For the past two years, Sykesville players have had the opportunity to watch game videos on their home computers. They could learn where they had made mistakes, and they also pick up pointers on their opponents. Since there were only four teams in the league, and they would play each opponent three or four times, time spent on scouting teams by viewing game videos really paid off.
"We also changed plays each week based on what we saw. We always added new wrinkles," Kessler said.
His Raiders had only one really rough game. That came against Olney in mid-October.
"We were losing 12-7, and right before the half we scored to make it 14-12. That was the only time we were down all year," the coach recalled. Sykesville held on to win by that score.
Of course the Raiders' spectacular year could vanish in one game once the playoffs began, particularly if they went into it overconfident. But the Raiders made sure that didn't happen as defense would again be the key to their success.
The Raiders opened against Winfield and won 26-0.
Erik Pearl and Aidan Addison had touchdown runs for the winners. Quarterback Blake Kessler threw touchdown strikes to Timmy Butler and to Pearl for the other two scores.
The defense was indeed stifling. Winfield had only one first down the entire game and one offensive play in the second half. The Raiders recovered five fumbles. These came from Joe Hickey, Aidan Moczulski, Casen Ferment, and two by Jenna Liska. Kessler added a first-half interception.
Special teams also came into play. Tyler Dinicola and Aiden O'Brien each recovered an onside kick for Sykesville.
The Super Bowl matched Sykesville against Olney again. It was a cold day and one not conducive to passing. But Sykesville had an effective ground game to carry it, and it maintained its airtight defense.
Turnovers were again a big factor in the Raiders' favor. Joe Hickey forced a fumble that was recovered by Casen Ferment. In addition, Addison and Ethan Crosby each recovered a fumble for the victors. Dinicola also had a key fourth-quarter interception.
Addison paced the offense with touchdown runs of five and 60 yards. Additionally, Pearl and O'Brien ran for crucial yards to maintain possession for Sykesville.
Sykesville's defense limited Olney to only two first downs and one pass completion the entire game.
"It was really fun to watch the kids. They could see that all of their hard work paid off, and they saw that first hand. Olney matched up well with us, but a few key plays enabled us to win," Kessler said.
He looked back for a few moments at his team's journey to the top.
"They've been at it for two years and have taken their lumps. We had seven new kids this year, and four had never played football. But they got a little better each practice and each game, and that's all you can ask as a coach," he said.
Kessler is uncertain where his team will play next year, but he would prefer it stay in the CCYFL's United Division.
He said that his players don't have the size and speed of those in the Freedom Division and that his team is thus better suited for the United Division.