Sean Sandora guided Dundalk to the most impressive turnaround of the season. The Owls, who finished under .500 a year ago, posted the best football season in school history with a record 12 wins and their first trip to the state final.
The Owls (12-2) won their first nine games before falling to two-time defending Class 3A state champion Franklin.
But Sandora, 33, made some key changes for the rematch and made the Owls believe they could dethrone the champs in the region final two weeks later. The players responded with a 20-16 victory for their first region title since 2002.
"The Franklin game was one of the key points in the season for me. Just to come back after losing to them and go to their stadium where they hadn't lost in 30-something games and really see the focus on my kids' faces and the way that they executed our game plan, it was just a great feeling to go in there and knock off Franklin," Sandora said.
The Owls, who have no All-Metro first-team players but plenty of strong, steady, team-oriented contributors, went on to win a 41-34 shootout with Potomac in the state semifinal before running into a stellar Damascus team and falling, 55-14, in the title game.
In his sixth season at Dundalk and his fourth as head coach, Sandora had an emotional attachment to this team and it showed after the Owls upset Franklin.
"The reason that they're so special to me personally is because they're the first group of guys who came in with me when I took over," Sandora said. "And then the commitment and the standard that I wanted to set for the program — Dundalk High School football in particular — they really responded to it. And I knew they were going to be a special team after last year when we had some bumps and bruises with a lot of young guys who played on varsity due to injuries. After we played a couple of competitive games against perennial powerhouses in our county, such as Franklin and Perry Hall, I knew this would be a special group. In the summertime they worked hard and came together into a great team and I'm very proud of them."
Sandora, who spent time as a graduate assistant at Salisbury and defensive coordinator at Mount Hebron, is 32-16 in four years with the Owls.
A former running back and defensive back at Brandywine High School and Salisbury University, Sandora guided the Owls to a 9-3 finish and a trip to the reginal final in 2012, his first season with Dundalk. That was a senior-laden team like this one. It took a couple of years to build back up, especially after a spate of injuries last season.
This fall, "our kids were a little bit more mature, so we were able to get into a consistent routine each week and the kids really bought into watching film and executing our game plan," he said.
"When we presented the game plan on Monday and all week long we challenged them to get in that formation and get lined up properly and know who they were going against and really dedicate themselves to watching film and becoming students of the game," Sandora said, "and they did that each week and got better at it."