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All-County Football 2010: Bathgate has Blazers on the winning trail

December 11, 2010|By MARK KELLER | keller@herald-mail.com
  • Clear Spring's Craig Bathgate is The Herald-Mail's 2010 Washington County Football Coach of the Year.
Clear Spring's Craig Bathgate is The Herald-Mail's 2010 Washington County Football Coach of the Year.

“If somebody had said four years ago that Clear Spring would go into Week 10 of a season holding its (playoff) destiny in its hands, I would have laughed,” said Clear Spring coach Craig Bathgate.

And four years ago, laughter would have been the common — albeit impolite — response.

But they’re not laughing at the Blazers now ... not after Bathgate led the team to the precipice of the Maryland Class 1A West playoffs and their first ever winning season.

For those reasons, Bathgate is The Herald-Mail’s Washington County Football Coach of the Year.

Four years ago, a lot of people were laughing at the Clear Spring football program. Since becoming a varsity team in 2004, the Blazers had won just two games and routinely allowed 50, 60, even 81 points in a game.

Bathgate took over as head coach in 2007 after serving as an assistant coach at North Hagerstown, but his first two years were as painful as the previous three for Clear Spring.

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The Blazers won just one game in Bathgate’s first two seasons while playing in the MVAL Antietam Conference. But Clear Spring received a reprieve from the league, allowing them to drop out of conference play in football.

The Blazers replaced teams on their schedule like North and South Hagerstown with smaller schools like Colonel Richardson, Rappahannock County and Randolph-Macon Academy.

“The schedule definitely helped us out. We’re playing teams we didn’t know anything about, but we can contend with them size-wise and numbers-wise,” Bathgate said. “But we had three playoff teams on the schedule last year and two playoff teams this year, so it’s not like it was a cake walk.”

The Blazers finished 5-5 in 2009 and 6-4 in 2010 and were in the playoff hunt in the last week of the season both years.

“The quality of the athlete we’re getting is better and they have a better understanding of the game,” Bathgate said. “And there’s pride in what we’re doing. There’s not an expectation that we’re going to lose.”

This year, the Blazers would have made the postseason by beating Williamsport in the regular-season finale. The Wildcats won, 34-21.

Now that the Blazers have found their footing, they’re upgrading their schedule, adding two more playoff teams in Brunswick and Northern Garrett, as well as Boonsboro, Berkeley Springs and Saint James.

“We’ve gotten to the point where we’re playing better, we can win games, been in the playoff picture,” Bathgate said. “But if we want to get in, we have to play some teams of that caliber in order to get ready.”

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