The fire trucks and ambulances began sounding their sirens in Waldorf as the final seconds ticked off the scoreboard at Alumni Stadium at Thomas Stone High.
The standing-room-only crowd of 3,500 cheered and Thomas Stone Coach Richard Callahan received the ceremonial bucket of ice over his head as the Cougars celebrated their 16-7 victory over Randallstown of Baltimore County in the semifinal round of the Maryland 3A playoffs.
The victory marks the first 12-win season in No. 10 Thomas Stone's history. Its reward: A date with No. 1 Seneca Valley of Germantown in the 3A championship game at 7 p.m. Saturday at Maryland's Byrd Stadium. Seneca Valley defeated Damascus, 48-7, to advance.
"We've been saying since the seventh or eighth game of the season that we wanted Seneca Valley," said Thomas Stone senior All-Met running back Marcus Whalen, who finished with 161 yards rushing and two touchdowns on 24 carries. "They are a great team. They're number one and that's what we want. The only way for us to really tell how good we are is to go against the best. And that's exactly what we've been waiting for."
Leading Randallstown 9-7 midway through the final quarter, a string of bizarre call by officials--at least from Thomas Stone's perspective--sent the Cougars into a frenzy. On fourth and four from the Rams 44-yard line, Callahan called for a fake punt. Center Steven Peaper hiked the ball and held it for Whalen, who took the ball and broke free for an apparent touchdown. But the officials ruled that the center held the ball too long, and called an illegal-procedure penalty.
The Cougars opted to punt after taking the five-yard penalty, and Randallstown senior quarterback Archie Trader fumbled at his own 24-yard line. Thomas Stone thought senior Erik Robertson had recovered the loose ball, but the officials instead awarded the ball to the Rams.
"Those two calls might have appeared to go our way, but they really turned the momentum toward them," said Randallstown Coach Anthony Knox, whose team finished 9-3. "They just seemed to get stronger as the game went on, especially Whalen. When they really needed it he ran over and ran through us."
Held to three plays and out on that possession, the Cougars took possession on the Rams 46-yard line with 4 minutes 30 seconds remaining. Whalen ran his patented sweep around right end for 14 yards and then again for a 12-yard gain, moving the ball to the 20-yard line.
Two plays later Whalen went left, taking the initial hit and bouncing around end for the score with 3:08 remaining--leaving Randallstown defensive backs Jamaal Patterson and Harvey Broadnax with their faces buried in the turf.
"I sure didn't think we'd be 12-0 at this point," Callahan said. "But we'll definitely take it."