HERSHEY, Pa. -- This was the gang that couldn't shoot crooked. Straight shooters. Straight arrows.
They made every practice on time. Showed up for taping by the trainers on time. Even turned in their equipment and cleaned up the locker room twice a day on time.
And when time ran out Saturday night at Hersheypark Stadium, Maryland's Big 33 high school football all-star team had shot down Pennsylvania's, 17-9, for its second win in seven tries.
"We think it's a high water mark for Maryland high school football," said head coach Doug DuVall (Wilde Lake), his voice barely a whisper yesterday after a night of celebration.
"It was about time for a victory, so people don't get the idea Maryland can be dominated by Pennsylvania," said Ricky Rowe (Wilde Lake), who had 10 tackles and broke up two long pass attempts.
And in the last few minutes of the game, protecting a 10-3 lead and Pennsylvania threatening thanks to some rather questionable penalties, Maryland took the straight and narrow path. "We hung together when the calls went against us," Rowe said.
But even early in the week the Maryland players had impressed their hosts. "Pennsylvania people said teams in the past didn't have the same attitude toward the cerebral palsy kids," whom the players befriended while in Hershey, said Forest Park guard Josh Austin.
And the equipment manager for the team told DuVall that the players did what's asked of them 100 percent of the time. "So we jTC called them the 100 percent kids," DuVall said.
But it wasn't all business. Nicknames were assigned. For instance, Ken Johnson (Chesapeake-BC), who coached the defensive backs, was dubbed "Speedy" and "Squiggy" (after the "Laverne and Shirley" TV show character) by the players for his round-the-clock enthusiasm.
"Ken Johnson did a great job with the defensive backs," said DuVall. "And Macon Tucker [Aberdeen], who coached the defensive line, was sort of a father image for everybody -- a strong, quiet presence always there."
Maryland football people have felt for years that they were treated like little brothers by their larger northern neighbor. It was necessary to instill a feeling of imminent victory. "We needed something to bring everybody together," DuVall said.
So, from the second day of practice he talked about "Maryland magic" to the press, to the players, to anyone who would listen. The players believed. By the end of the week there were near-300 pound Tinker Bells in the Maryland locker room making sprinkling motions over each other's hands, as if spreading a magic dust.
And then they went out and dusted off Pennsylvania.