When Larry Hurd took over as head coach of the Poolesville football team before the start of last season, he inherited a program that had not reached the playoffs since 1997. A program that had suffered four consecutive losing seasons. A program coming off a 2-6 campaign -- its worst in nearly a decade.
But Hurd, who already had made the Poolesville boys' basketball team a consistent winner, had plans for a quick turnaround.
"I knew him from basketball, because I played varsity [basketball] as a sophomore," said Cory Christman, now a senior who plays wide receiver and linebacker for the Falcons. "The players who played basketball and football told the other [football players] that it would be a lot different. A lot more intense. You do it his way or not at all."
Hurd's influence was obvious even in the summer, when two-a-days had an uncommon intensity. The players worked hard and could not wait for the season to begin.
"Last year the focus was attitude, changing the attitude," Hurd said. "The thing about it now is all the kids expect to win. Every time they go out, they expect to win."
And win they have.
Poolesville went 10-0 during the 2003 regular season -- outscoring opponents 343-67 along the way -- and won its opening round playoff game, then took Dunbar (Balt.) to the wire in the Maryland 1A South Region championship game before losing, 30-22.
Last season's successes made the Falcons even more confident this year. So even without a number of standout players from last year's team who graduated and despite suffering injuries to key players, the Falcons are one game away from another perfect regular season. If Poolesville defeats Bethesda-Chevy Chase tomorrow it will be the Falcons' 20th consecutive regular season triumph, a school record.
"We're real confident," said sophomore quarterback Matt Ray. "We just go out and try to win every game."
Through nine games, the Falcons have outscored opponents by an astounding 227-48. On offense, the precocious Ray has played well beyond his years and provided the Falcons with a rushing and passing threat. Ray has passed for 706 yards and 10 touchdowns.
"He's done an extremely good job this year, and not too many [quarterbacks] have both facets of the game like he does," Hurd said. "He's only going to grow and mature and become better. I wouldn't trade him for anybody."
Poolesville has gotten contributions from many on offense, including running backs Greg Brooks and Jared Christman, receivers Cory Christman, Brandon Moore, Steven Eader, Matt Fields and Chris Kramek, and an always-improving offensive line. And few defenses have been as stingy as Poolesville's. The Falcons have not allowed more than one score in any game since their season opener.
"It's been that way for two years," Hurd said. "We can always count on our defense to play solid football."
Moore, who recently returned from an injury, anchors the Falcons' secondary -- through 16 games in his varsity career, he has picked off 18 passes. The defensive line, led by seniors Joe Briggs, Chris Wilber and Fields, has improved each week. And the outstanding linebacker corps of junior Tyler Bierly, senior Tommy Dorrycott and senior Chris Dimopolous has given the Falcons big plays throughout the year.
And Poolesville seems only to be getting stronger as the postseason approaches.
"Things have not gone our way as far as injuries and sickness," Hurd said. "We had a few of our best football players out, and we're just finally starting to put a full football team on the field."