Victory eludes Knight's grasp

November 23, 1996


Staff Writer

WHEATON, Md. - A Middletown player, with arms outstretched, lunges for a football seemingly within his grasp. But all he can do is watch helplessly as it bounces away.

The scene occurred over and over Saturday and it revealed more than the secret of the Knights' 21-7 loss to Wheaton in the Maryland Class 2A state semifinals. It served as a metaphor for a program that has accomplished so much, but has never snatched the ultimate goal - a state championship.

Five turnovers and two failed fourth-and-short situations left Middletown players wondering what could have been.

"This could have been it. This could have been the year," said Middletown's Evan Routzahn, a hulking 6-foot-6, 290-pound lineman who was reduced to a misty-eyed onlooker of Wheaton's celebration. "The seniors wanted to leave Middletown behind something it's never had before."


Instead, it will be Wheaton (10-2) facing Fort Hill, a 21-14 winner over City College, in Saturday's 4 p.m. state championship game at Byrd Stadium. It will be Wheaton's second appearance in the state title game in three years.

Since 1981, Middletown has made seven state playoff appearances and lost twice in the state finals, twice in the semifinals. Last year's team went 10-0 before losing in the first round of the Class 2A playoffs. This year's team was 10-1 heading into Saturday.

"I'm not going to quit 'cause we haven't won a state championship," said Middletown coach Tim Ambrose, who has a 23-year record of 179-57. "It's not the reason I'm coaching football. ... (A state title) would be nice to get but it's not what makes this whole thing worthwhile."

"We had great coaching, great players ... Middletown was the perfect place to play," said Knights quarterback Matt Main. "When we look back, we have to be happy 'cause we had two consecutive 10-win seasons. (In three years) we only lost five games."

"It's disappointing for the seniors," said Brett Embrey. "We wanted to go to Byrd. But we had a heck of a run and we can't complain about that."

However, when Main and his teammates look back on the Wheaton contest, they'll think of it as the one that slipped away - literally.

"Turnovers killed us," said Main, who was 22 of 39 for 226 yards and was credited with two unfortunate interceptions.

Middletown fumbled the ball four times, losing three, including one in the Wheaton end zone on its last offensive play.

It appeared defense would dominate the day, as both offenses failed to gain a first down on the first four possessions of the game. However, Wheaton put together the first substantial drive, and it ended with a 14-yard scoring pass from Mike Ray to Ken Sasu. The extra point kick failed.

Middletown went to the passing attack in the second quarter, and freely moved the ball on Wheaton. However, a fumble at Wheaton's 12 halted one drive. Another lost fumble at Wheaton's 24, following a 21-yard pass play, scrapped another scoring chance.

The Knights finally broke through with a Main-to-Ken Robey 10-yard scoring pass in the closing seconds of the first half, capping a 12-play, 70-yard drive.

The Knights reached Wheaton's 19 on their first drive of the third quarter, but a fourth-and-one run failed. Five minutes later, Middletown had a fourth-and-two at Wheaton's 36, and again failed to convert.

Following its second big defensive stand, Wheaton took the lead for good. It marched 64 yards on five plays, capped by Hector Velazquez's 4-yard run. After a penalty negated one two-point conversion, Ray found David Ogburn for a score and 14-7 advantage.

Middletown's next two drives ended with interceptions deep in its territory. Both passes were touched by the intended receivers, but bounced into the arms of defenders.

Wheaton finally put the game away when Sasu scored on a 6-yard run with 3:21 remaining. Wheaton had started the drive at Middletown's 18 after a failed fourth-and-10 play.

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