It was hours before Casey Crouse's first home football game as Damascus principal when the signs emerged that this school and this town are indeed different, just as she'd be told for months before the school year began.
Six- and 7-year-olds dressed up for the day in Hornet green and gold, she saw at a morning meeting at Damascus Elementary just down the road: boys in Hornet jerseys, girls in skirts with pom-poms. Hours before kickoff, fans arrived in the parking lot and volunteers taped blankets down on the stadium's prime seats to mark off space for season-ticket holders.
Yes, in Damascus, there are season-ticket sales for high school football.
The No. 4 Hornets have been very good at this game as far back as folks here can remember. They've won back-to-back state championships and 30 straight games, including a 42-7 stomping of No. 16 Sherwood, their oldest rival, on Friday night.
They proudly claim the self-anointed title of "Maryland's best football town," and the town has devoted itself to maintaining the cause. It raised money to paint a big green and yellow "D" on the water tower overlooking the field and the neighborhoods — it looks like the whole town is watching the stadium. Before the game, they hailed the elected officials at midfield who helped make it happen.
The players did their part, too, on Friday night. Hornets senior tailback Gage Dickens rushed for four scores and 133 yards on 17 carries. Classmate T.D. Ayo-Durojaiye added another 58 yards on eight carries. Damascus (2-0), which returned four Division I-bound linemen, controlled the line of scrimmage from start to finish, and once senior wide receiver Javier Smith took a jet sweep 59 yards for a touchdown on a third-and-long play for the game's first score in the opening quarter, the Hornets never let up. The team rushed for 332 yards and held Sherwood (1-1) to 87 yards of total offense.
As high school football cedes ground nationwide — high school football enrollment is down 4.5 percent over the past decade, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, and schools in nearby Howard County are struggling to field teams — it endures in Damascus, played and watched the same way for decades.
"It feels like a time warp," Coach Eric Wallich said. "It's been the exact same way since I played here."
There are fans, the coach said, that stand or sit in the same place to watch the game for years at a time. He can rattle off a list of restaurants in town that see postgame rushes, and knows which families will be in which booths.
Wallich played for the late Maryland coaching legend Al Thomas, who built this program some 30 years ago. He uses the same plays and formations as Thomas. They've all waited for these Friday nights, players say, from their first youth football games.
Senior John Allan Ferguson has quarterbacked the same core group of players since fourth grade. He helps coach his little brother's sixth grade football team. Those players stand by the locker room to give him high-fives as he runs out onto the field.
"They look up to us," Ferguson said, as the drum line performed an informal postgame concert, another Damascus tradition. "They're watching us on and off the field."