Before Tim Palmer took over at Harford Tech last summer, the Cobras had never won more than six games in a season and they had never been to the playoffs. He changed that in a hurry.
Harford Tech finished its best season in program history — by far — with a 12-1 record, a state semifinal appearance and the No. 13 ranking in The Baltimore Sun. The Cobras won their first 12 games, their first Upper Chesapeake Bay Athletic Conference Susquehanna Division championship and their first Class 2A East title.
Palmer had a young team, but he had coached about a dozen Cobras seniors when they were on junior varsity three years ago. After two years as Harford Tech’s JV coach, he moved to Joppatowne and spent the previous two seasons as the Mariners offensive coordinator.
When he returned to Harford Tech, Palmer emphasized accountability, responsibility and discipline, as he had as the JV coach. Having players who knew him and his coaching style helped the transition, he said.
“They bought into it from day one in the summer when we had meetings — being on time and being penalized for things outside the rules,” he said. “They were fantastic football players, and when they got that structure around them, it just all came together. Harford Tech has a great group of kids every year, and they felt this was something they could identify with and work for.”
Palmer, who called his assistant coaches “world class,” said he thought during August that this team had potential for success, especially after a scrimmage against Havre de Grace, a state finalist in Class 1A last year and the winner of the UCBAC’s tougher Chesapeake Division this fall.
“They’re a powerhouse and we kind of battled them early,” said Palmer, whose Cobras were 5-5 in 2016.
“We didn’t really open our playbook. We just went at them and we held our own. They opened it up at the end, but we competed with them very well and that’s when I really knew this team was special. When the games started, I was actually kind of shocked at some of the results. I knew we could be good, but we were taking our starters out in the second quarter.”
They opened the season with shutouts of York County Tech, Pa., and Tower Hill, Del., by a combined 84-0. Not much changed when they hit their UCBAC schedule against Harford and Cecil County teams. Only one regular-season opponent came within 20 points — C. Milton Wright, 23-3 — as they outscored their regular-season competition by an average of 36 points.
In the first round of the playoffs, they beat Elkton, 35-0, and they proved they could win a close game, too, rallying to edge Kent Island, 22-21, in the 2A East region final. The Cobras turned the ball over five times in the first half and trailed 21-9 at the break. Sophomore quarterback Ryan Hunt threw two touchdown passes in the final 6:45 to seal the victory.
“I knew when [Kent Island] beat North Caroline that this was going to be different than anything we had faced all year,” Palmer said of the Buccaneers’ win over the region’s top seed.
“Kent Island actually showed us how to compete in the second season. They smacked us in the face when they came out. They were more disciplined. They got off the ball quicker. They just moved with more urgency. We had to go into halftime and settle down. We had to learn our lesson and go out and apply it.”
In the state semifinal, they stuck with Gwynn Park until the fourth quarter, during which the Yellow Jackets scored a late touchdown to take a 16-9 victory.
“It was a great year,” said Palmer, who played quarterback at Potomac for two years before transferring to Friendly and concentrating on track. “We have a junior- and sophomore-saturated team. We have a sophomore quarterback and my left tackle and right tackle are both sophomores. Our featured back, Jalen Dangerfield, was a junior, so we’re pretty excited about next year. I’m just excited about the program.”