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Smell of success in air at Key


There's something contagious floating through the halls of Francis Scott Key High School, and it's not the flu.

It's optimism.

The volleyball team is undefeated, the field hockey squad is one win away from a county title, and the football program is 2-0.

Yes, that's right, excitement is building in Union Bridge for the Eagles' football team, which is lining up for its first playoff bid in recent memory.

But don't approach the football players expecting them to mirror the enthusiasm that is running through the student body, teaching staff and general community. Many of them said they really are just focusing on the next game only.

"We want to win one week at a time," said senior linebacker Russell Tyler. "There's no pressure as long as we go week by week."

"Other people remind us of that," junior running back Brad Stonesifer said of the playoff possibility. "We don't need to think about that right now."

The Eagles' 2-0 record is the program's best start since 1985. The first win came at the expense of county rival North Carroll.

Last week's victory may have been even sweeter. Three-time defending Monocacy Valley Athletic League champion Middletown - which enjoyed a 22-game winning streak against Francis Scott Key - suffered its second loss of the season courtesy of the Eagles, 21-7.

The win - Francis Scott Key had been outscored by the Knights, 768-60, during the 22-game losing streak - may have been monumental, but even more impressive the Eagles' dominance.

Francis Scott Key almost doubled Middletown's total rushing yards (253-136), nearly tripled the Knights' total passing yardage (47-14), and gave up one turnover compared to Middletown's three.

But the past is the past, and coach Mike Coons is interested only in meeting North Hagerstown, which is 1-0 and atop the league standings with the Eagles.

"We have to stay focused," he said. "We can't afford the luxury of looking past Friday."

The seeds for the school's recent practice were planted two years ago when this season's senior class constituted much of the junior varsity squad. That team - composed of what is currently the junior class - finished with a 6-2 record.

With a few graduations, this year's squad is virtually unchanged from last season's. But Coons said the key has been the development of the wing-T offense and the maturation of the players.

Coons specifically points to last year's 3-0 loss to Brunswick, which advanced to the finals of the state Class 1A championships.

"The juniors on that team saw good kids crying, and they remember that," he recalled. "They said they were going to leave their hearts and souls on the field and come away with good results. We haven't lost since."

Senior defensive tackle Arty Wilson said the commitment began last December when as much as 95 percent of the players hit the weight room during the winter, spring and summer seasons.

"There was a lot of dedication in there," Wilson said. "This is something that we've worked for."

The effort is producing results on the field, and the outcomes have drawn notice from outside Union Bridge. North Carroll football coach Bill Rumbaugh sent a note of congratulations and encouragement to Francis Scott Key after the Middletown win. And a group of Westminster football players attended the game to show their support for their county brethren.

"I thought that was really neat," Coons said of Rumbaugh's note and the show of Westminster players. "I thought that was very classy on their part."

But if the Eagles keep winning, can they ignore the growing number of well-wishers?

Stonesifer said they can and will.

"We know we have it," he said. "We just have to do it."

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