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Knights are success story

November 22, 2002|by MARK KELLER

keller@herald-mail.com

Middletown football coach Tim Ambrose has a record that would make nearly any coach envious.

With a 237-67 mark over 29 years at Middletown, Ambrose is the third-winningest active coach in Maryland. He also holds the distinction of being the winningest coach in the state not to have won a state championship.

Ambrose is hopeful that the Knights can help him remove that title by taking another step toward a title of their own tonight at Wicomico in a Class 2A semifinal.

Passing the Phil Mickelson-like title onto another coach isn't what drives Ambrose. Certainly, he wants the Knights to win today to get a shot at the state crown. But in that sense, it's no different from any other game.

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"Honestly, I don't want it any more than any other game, because we want to win every game on the schedule," Ambrose said.

Many years, the Knights have come very close to doing that, including this season. Middletown enters tonight's semifinal on a nine-game winning streak, its only loss of the season coming at Francis Scott Key in Week 2.

The Knights have won at least 10 games in seven of the last eight years, have made the postseason in each of those seven seasons and have now reached the state semifinals in five of the last seven years.

Still, the state title has eluded the Knights, just as a trip to the final has in recent years. Their last trip to the title game was in 1991, which ended in a loss to Allegany.

Behind their "Big Three" of Josh Keeney, Bryan DeMoss and Ryan Cutsail, Middletown could end that drought tonight and put the Knights on the brink of that elusive championship.

In 11 games this year, Keeney has rushed for 2,209 yards and 37 touchdowns behind a line anchored by DeMoss and Cutsail. Keeney's 226 points account for 61 percent of Middletown's scoring this year.

"He's probably the best back I've ever had," Ambrose said. "If you look at what he's done over the last two years and isolate just this year ...

"Is he the best back in the state? Probably no. Is he one of the top three or four in the state? Probably yes."

The steadying presence of DeMoss and Cutsail has been one reason Keeney has been able to put up numbers against every opponent this year. The seniors were the only offensive linemen returning who saw significant playing time as juniors. That experience helped them to lift new starters like Brian Cosgray, Troy Birkenbuel and Chris Nichols to a higher level.

"We really had to put pieces of the puzzle together because we lost so much from last year," Ambrose said. "We had to put guys on the fast track and they've come on and had great years."

Whether it's enough to get them over the hump remains to be seen, but if the Knights can avoid giving up big plays, Ambrose likes his team's chances.

"We can drive the ball and we can keep it out of their hands," Ambrose said. "To win, it's the same thing, it's nothing new. Don't turn it over, don't get busted on big plays and you're right there."

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