May 21, 2018

Damascus-Walkersville: A spectacle, the officiating mishap, thoughts and lessons learned

Damascus quarterback John Allan Furgeson rips off a game-changing 67-yard run on Friday night, which helped lead the Hornets to victory in front of a standing-room-only crowd. Austin McFadden/MSA.

For nearly a year, we’ve anticipated a Clash of the Champions between Damascus — 2015 and 2016 3A state champs, which bumped down to 2A in 2017 — and Walkersville, last winter’s 2A state champs. We let the exciting thought yo-yo in our minds for many months and monitored the two programs microscopically as the 2017 season progressed, comparing both by the week. Local forums and social media pages had threads of this intriguing contest well before the playoffs were in sight. 

On Friday night, we finally got our Damascus-Walkersville showdown, and while it certainly lived up the hype as one the of the most epic games in Maryland high school football history, there’s a deep sense of letdown.

About an hour before the game began Friday — when both grandstands were chock-full and designated standing room sections nearing capacity —‘s Matthew Miller and I were chatting about how we just wanted to leave the stadium knowing the kids decided it on the field. Like any other sport, missed calls and officiating miscues happen, because there’s a human element involved and referees aren’t robots.

As I was walking out of Damascus High’s stadium, my biggest fear had happened, and left me in knots knowing the supposed “Game of the Decade” will be remembered for its inconclusiveness rather than its riveting play.

With roughly 11 minutes remaining in regulation, Damascus, which trailed 3-0 at the time, had the ball at the Lions’ 14-yard line and faced a 3rd-and-13. Right after running back Gage Dickens received the snap, a flag flew. Dickens ran to the left and, just before he crossed the plane, a second flag flew. Dickens scored to push Damascus ahead, 6-3, in the game’s only touchdown. Many Walkersville players pointed down the field, thinking it’s coming back, while officials conversed. 

The refs picked up both flags and waved them off. Turns out, the film revealed 12 players were on the field during the scoring play. I have the utmost respect for officials, because it is one of the most cutthroat jobs out there and the need for them is at an all-time high, but to miss a call like that in a game of that magnitude is flat out embarrassing and inexcusable.

While Walkersville had two more chances to score — one being a drive deep into its own territory with 40 seconds to go and no timeouts remaining — it was enough for Damascus to come away with the well-earned victory, 7-3.

This makes me sick because of the hypotheticals — the what could have been — and the ugly stain now attached to a spectacle in what was otherwise a grand slam for high school football. If I had to guess, I’d say there were well over 6,000 fans on Friday night; most competing for just a decent view along the fence line. I had never seen so many spectators at a high school sporting event before, and it was a treat to soak in, knowing you serve two passionate communities.

“One of the most electric environments I have ever seen,” Damascus coach Eric Wallich said in a statement Sunday regarding the too-many-men-on-the-field business. 

“It’s unfortunate that there is a controversial play now looming over [the game],” Wallich added. “We now know that there were 12 players on the field on that play. That obviously was not done on purpose because we know that would be a penalty. With the injury to Ben Lokos, our RB’s [running backs] were confused who the subs were for that package and both subs went on the field. We had no idea until the play was over because everyone was caught up in the fact that we scored. It was a big play and that can’t be disputed.”

Wallich also went on to say that play isn’t the reason why they won and “there were calls or non calls we don’t agree with, too, that we feel allowed them to sustain some drives, but that is part of the game.”

Again, this goes back to what I was talking about with Matthew pre-game: This stuff happens; referees are human.

“This is one of those times,” Wallich added.” If we were in their shoes [Walkersville] I’m sure we would be bitter, too, but we can’t change what happened.”

On the contrary, I don’t think it’s appropriate to leave it as “this stuff happens,” solely based on the magnitude and the stakes, which couldn’t be higher. I’m still confounded how a situation like that flies over three officials’ heads. But like Coach Wallich said, there’s nothing we can do now.

I do feel Damascus was more deserving, even though the field is 100 yards for a reason and you play every inch of it, and moral points aren’t awarded, only those that cross the plane. The Hornets created more opportunities, including two empty red zone trips in the first half that ended in a missed 37-yard field goal and a fumble at the 4-yard line. They also had the longest play of the night when quarterback John Allan Furgeson ripped off a 67-yard run on the eventual scoring drive in the fourth quarter, But, again, there’s a reason why the field is 100 yards and you always play every inch of it.

It’s just unfortunate there’s so many what-ifs. What if Damascus converted both trips inside the red zone to mount a 10-0 lead the half? What if the refs had caught the Hornets with too many men? Which would have pushed them back 15 yards to the 29-yard line, facing a 3rd-and-28 and a 46-yard field goal. What could have happened after that? Could Damascus have made a field goal from there, give or take a few yards? It’s likely, but I wouldn’t have beat on it. Was Walkersville’s three points enough? Possibly, given the Hornets couldn’t do much on offense and their only TD was on an illegal play. Would the Hornets have scored anyways, regardless of the too-many-men penalty? Probably, given many Walkersville’s seemed out of gas in the fourth quarter. What about Walkersville’s second to last possession, when Billy Gant threw an interception? If they hadn’t pressed for a touchdown, would that have happened? Who knows.

All the hypotheticals is what eats at me, because we’ll never come to grips with a game that will go down as one of the best all-time. I feel for the 26 seniors on Walkersville who have to grapple with that being the end.

This was also a game of lessons learned. Maybe it’s time high school football implements instant replay on the bigger stages, or at least explore the possibility. Many programs, including Quince Orchard, have instant replay at its disposal on the sideline. I don’t know how this works (I’m not too tech savvy) or the price of this, but if it’s out there already, we need to explore using it.

It was also a learning lesson for myself. I have been looking forward to this game for nearly a year, and I have been analyzing each side closely along the way. When game-week finally arrived, I unloaded all my notes on social media and‘s board. I always try to do my job to the best of my ability, and I still have a lot of learning to do. Without paying much attention, some of my analysis came off as disrespectful and too far, and I feel that way looking back.

I put myself in a deep, deep hole and I was actually up all night (literally) breaking down film of Damascus and Walkersville from Thursday night into Friday morning (thanks to a coach) simply because I knew I put a lot of what I’ve worked for on the line. That’s why I tweeted I was up for 39 hours straight. Credibility is everything in journalism and I work tirelessly to build and maintain it. Everything you see here is built from scratch. Three years ago, I started with nothing. On Friday night, I was a tad nervous because of the legions of fans who knew me by name; a cool experience, but again, it brought me back to having anxiety over my prediction.

A lot of what I predicted played out, but a lot didn’t, including the score, and that’s where I rightfully received the most backlash. While I do believe certain people went overboard, I brought it on myself. I must be more mindful with my predictions and analysis, as these are kids and programs of builders of men we’re talking about. I do want to make this known: Everything I do for Maryland Sports Access is without pay (for now, at least). All the stories I craft? I don’t get paid for any of it. So, I’m making this clear: Before you bash and insult, please remember where my heart is. If I do all of this for free, who am I really doing it for? The glory of God and the relentless pursuit of His purpose for me, the kids, the programs and, quite simply, you the people.

At the end of the day, I’m blessed to just be the guy who serves the people; who others trust, who gets to tell stories of athletes and coaches and be the middleman on rocky terrain.

While it had an officiating mishap, Friday’s Damascus-Walkersville showdown was a thing of beauty — an absolute spectacle — and a night filled with lessons we need to learn from.

About Kyle McFadden 416 Articles
Kyle McFadden is a graduate from Linganore High School's Class of 2014, a sports junkie and general news-hound. He got his start as a sports writer in January 2014 for Linganore's student-run newspaper The Lance, where he wrote 13 articles. McFadden then launched his own blog in October 2014 called The Beltway Dispatch covering collegiate, local high school and professional sports. Formally known as The Beltway Dispatch, McFadden and Evan Engelhard merged respective platforms in June 2015 to make what is now Maryland Sports Access. With baseball, basketball and golf experience, McFadden brings ample knowledge to the helm of MSA. McFadden covers a wide variety of sports in football, baseball, basketball, golf, hockey, lacrosse, soccer and specializes in the collegiate and high school levels. McFadden volunteers his time at Damascus Road Community Church -- serving as a mentor to the youth, basketball coach at the varsity and junior varsity levels, and leads a small group of high school sophomores every Wednesday night. Although he's only been around journalism since January 2014, he's a high school sports reporter for The Baltimore Sun and freelancer for The Frederick News-Post. McFadden's work has also appeared in DMV newspapers The Aegis, The Capital Gazette, The Daily Times (Delmarva Now), The Hometown Observer, Howard County Times, Germantown Pulse and The Towson Times. He's also won two Mike Powell Excellence in Journalism awards and has appeared on The Best of SNO, which showcases top student work of high school and college journalists. McFadden currently studies at Frederick Community College and plans to transfer to the University of Maryland in the fall of 2018 to work on a bachelor's degree in journalism with aspirations to be a national college basketball writer.
Contact: Twitter

14 Comments on Damascus-Walkersville: A spectacle, the officiating mishap, thoughts and lessons learned

  1. You are entitled to your opinion. However, your reaction supports your prediction and after all, we all like to be right. What if there was a call that went against Damascus that cost their 26 seniors a 3rd straight championship? Would you react the same way? Like Coach Wallich said, there were calls that went against Damascus in the game that were probably wrong and calls that weren’t made. In fact, there was at least one penalty on Damascus on the Walkersville field goal drive. “What if” there was no call, no field goal?? It’s part of the game and certainly unfortunate for the Walkersville seniors who will carry the defeat with them. Essentially a “lucky” break for the Swarmin Hornets, but don’t most successful people/teams create their own luck by hard work and dedication? Your heart and dedication to your craft are not in question, but has nothing to do with your opinion. In the end, Damascus players and fans are happy and Walkersville is not and deservedly so. “Lucky breaks” are part of any competition and can go either way. Believe me, Damascus has been there many times on the wrong end and this time it went our way (do you recall the Urbana 1 point playoff win in OT where a penalty was called that helped them get the win). It’s part of the game and always will be. The best thing that can happen is that they meet again next year and hopefully decide the game on the field, just like they did this year. Keep writing because you certainly add to the experience. After all, it’s “Friday Night, in…….DAMASCUS!!!!!!!!

      • That was a great article!!! I wish Linganor Lancers and you a Maryland State Championship!!!

        I have a question, why did QO, which plays in West, play North Point, which play in the East.
        3A, 2A, and 1A play the South in the Regional finals. If they would have played the South, they would have played Wise in the Semi-Finals. Why is it different in 4A?

  2. This was a well written article. Do you have a facebook account where we could follow you? Unfortunately, I don’t have a twitter account

  3. I would have loved to have been at that game. However, as a Lancer fan first and foremost, I was in Westminster cheering on the boys in red, black, and white. The real problem with this game is that it was played on week two and not week four. I can’t imagine how many people would have been there if it had been played in Annapolis. The MPSSAA’s current playoff system is broken! The 2A West is just the latest example of that. After two weeks of playoffs it was destined that two of the top teams in the state would be out and one wouldn’t even get a home playoff game. Walkersville and Oakdale deserve more than that. So do the fans of Maryland high school football. Fix this thing MPSSAA!

  4. Since the Damascus coach knew full well when the play occurred that there were 12 players on the field, he could’ve done the right thing and told the referees not to pick up the flags and go ahead and assess the penalty. This would’ve been a great life statement on sportsmanship and the coach would have become a hero. Instead, he’s just like every other coach…

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