Bulldogs prove they're as good as we've seen

October 26, 2003|by MARK KELLER

This was supposed to be their big test.

This was supposed to be the team that gave them the most trouble.

This was supposed to be the end of the regular-season winning streak.

Instead, the Martinsburg football team answered every question that had been posed about it this season with a 41-2 win over Fort Hill on Friday night and left fans and opponents to ponder another thought.

Are the Bulldogs really this good?

Without a doubt, Martinsburg is the best area team in my nine seasons of covering football for The Herald-Mail. The 1997 Thomas Johnson team was close, as was Musselman in 1999 and Martinsburg a year ago.

But those teams still pale in comparison to this year's Bulldogs.

Friday's game had been hyped all season - by this newspaper and others - as the game of the year. And on paper, that appeared to be the case.


Both teams were unbeaten. Both teams have realistic state title hopes. Both teams probably felt they had something to prove to one another.

Martinsburg's high-powered offense had been quieted in the last two meetings against Fort Hill - both 10-0 wins by the Bulldogs. The Sentinels were out to show they could shut down the scoring machine again.

Fort Hill hadn't scored against the Bulldogs in two years. Martinsburg was out to show that those two defensive gems were no flukes.

The game of the year turned out to be not much of a game at all.

Martinsburg moved the ball at will against the Sentinels, scoring on five of its first six possessions. The only possession the Bulldogs did not score on was the one that led to Fort Hill's only points - a safety when Martinsburg snapped the ball out of the end zone.

But in the grand scheme of things, there was a silver lining to that, too. The Bulldogs had the ball so deep in their own territory only because their defense kept the Sentinels out of the end zone with a four-play goal-line stand.

Fans had been waiting to see wide receiver Brandon Barrett have a breakout game against Fort Hill. He obliged with 13 catches for 148 yards and three rushes for 51 yards. He scored three touchdowns.

Nate Sowers was incredibly precise with his passing, completing 20 of 23 for 229 yards and three scores.

Remember Joey Yurish, the quarterback who guided the Bulldogs to the state title game in 2001? That's OK. Sowers has given a lot of other people amnesia on that front.

The Sentinels simply had no answers for Martinsburg. They thought they could run on the Bulldogs and didn't. They thought they could contain the passing game and didn't.

And that's not meant to be a bash on Fort Hill - something I have been accused of dishing out in the past. Friday night was just a case of a good Fort Hill team running into a superior Martinsburg team.

It's easy to question who the better team is after a 10-0 final. If one or two breaks go the other way, it's a different ball game.

With a 41-2 result, there is no questioning.

Sheldon Shealer, a former Herald-Mail sports editor who compiles the Maryland football poll for the Associated Press, attended Friday's game with me for two reasons: to get a first look at Fort Hill this season and to see a Martinsburg team that he used to cover in his days at The Herald.

On more than one occasion, he used the word "awesome" to describe the Bulldogs. When I asked him after the game where they ranked among the teams he had seen at The Herald, he said only the Chambersburg teams of the early 1990s would be close.

Kevin Burkey, a former placekicker and now an assistant coach at Shepherd College, was among the estimated crowd of 8,000 at Greenway Avenue Stadium on Friday. He was a member of the Urbana teams that won 50 straight games from 1998-2001.

When asked if those Urbana teams would have beaten Martinsburg, Burkey hemmed and hawed. He searched for the answer.

Pride prevented him from giving a definitive answer, but he was very complimentary toward the Bulldogs, particularly their passing game.

The only thing Burkey would commit to was this: "One thing's for sure: We'd definitely score more than two points."

While Barrett, Sowers and coach David Walker all agreed that Friday's win was big, they also admitted there's more work to do. A win over Fort Hill was not the be-all, end-all for the Bulldogs. There's still one regular-season game and the playoffs yet to come.

The Bulldogs' season shouldn't be diminished if they do not win the Class AAA title, but you can be certain that they're striving for nothing less.

Mark Keller is sports editor of The Herald-Mail. His column appears every Sunday. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2332, or by e-mail at

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