ELKTON — Elkton High School head coach Bill Russell referred to the team as a “buzz-saw.”
After a perfect regular season, a playoff run that saw the team outscore its opponents by a combined score of 112-15, and the first-ever state football championship in Cecil County history, it’s not hard to see why the 2000 Elkton football team will forever be immortalized in county history books.
“When we started the season, we knew we had a pretty good team but we didn’t know how good,” Russell said. “We just had a lot of talent, the kids worked hard in the offseason and it was paying off. We just started and kept going and going.”
The Elks finished that year 13-0, topping Forestville 21-8 to capture the Class 1A State Championship at University of Maryland in College Park and complete the best season since the school began playing football in 1948.
Elkton had come close before.
The Elks of ‘79 and ‘80 combined to win 19 straight games, a streak that came to an end when Allegany beat them 16-6 in the 1980 state final. In 1971, four years before the MPSSAA introduced its state title format, Elkton won the Bayside Conference, topping Queen Anne’s 41-0 to finish the year 9-0.
In 2000, however, it was obvious that the near 20-year gap between state championship game appearances had made Elkton a relative unknown across the state.
“We were undefeated going into the playoffs and we still weren’t ranked or a regional champion. We were an at-large team,” Russell said. “We were putting a lot of points up and the defense was holding people. It was remarkable, to be very honest with you. As the season progressed, we just kept getting better and better.”
The year kicked off with a 20-14 win over North Harford in Week 1.
“I remember [the North Harford players] standing by the locker room and running their mouths and saying ‘You boys are going to get it handed to ya,’” Elkton wide receiver Chris Geary said. “Ever since that first game, we realized that people didn’t know who we were and we were going to have to put ourselves on the map.”
The Elks rose to the challenge.
After a 26-7 win over Fallston in Week 2, Elkton rattled off three straight blowout wins, including shutouts over Bohemia Manor and Rising Sun. In fact, a one-score win over Caravel (Del.) in Week 6 proved to be the closest the team would ever come to losing the rest of the year.
“That’s how the season went,” Russell said. “It just felt like everything just fell in place. We were doing things that championship teams did.”
The Elks then entered the playoffs, where they recorded a season-high 49 points in an opening-round blowout win over host Westmar, before returning home to shut out Northern Garrett 42-0 in the state semifinals.
“From start to finish, most guys on our team had a hard-working attitude. Our goal was to do the best we could,” Elkton wide receiver/cornerback Tony Weaver said. “We took on that blue collar mentality that hard work pays off, and as long we got everything done, everything would go as planned.”
Hours of scouting, watching film and studying plays provided Elkton with the blueprint to beat Forestville.
“Before we went into that championship game we had scouted [Forestville],” Russell said. “We went down to see them play [in the state semifinals]. After they won, they said to us, ‘You’re next.’ I said, ‘Put that team [you just beat] and your team together and come play us.’ They were a very good team but we were just better.”
The Elks executed their game plan flawlessly.
Led by running back John Triplett (162 rushing yards and three touchdowns) and a suffocating defense, the Elks pitched a near-perfect game in College Park.
“When we got into that game it was like magic. We scored and we were just driving the ball and driving the ball. If we made a mistake they’d get the ball, but we’d get the ball right back. It was really something,” Russell said. “Toward the end, we were up and we were trying to get everybody in the game. It worked out well. We came out on top.”
While he turned in a dominant performance in the game, Triplett also proved influential prior to the contest, as well.
“We got a little worried because we got butterflies before the state championship game. I remember we would goof around before every game, but when we were in College Park we were just dead silent,” Geary remembered. “John Triplett, he was usually the guy who was quiet in the locker room, he just started going crazy and getting us pumped for the game.”
Russell noted how his star running back entered the field.
“We always came out slow. We would walk down the sideline, walk across the field and go to our sideline and do our stretching out. Well, for whatever reason, Johnny decided he was taking over. He went down the sideline and instead of walking across, he was shuffling across while looking at [Forestville]. I know he was thinking in his mind, ‘Bring it on, boys. Bring it on,’” Russell said. “He just took control and he was determined that we would win that game. He was just remarkable that day. He put everything he had on the line and the defense played outstanding.”
“Intense,” was how Weaver labeled the contest.
“It was kind of a back and forth battle. It just seemed like everything was close until the end,” Weaver said. “We still talk about it to this day. I remember coming out of the locker room and hearing the other team’s band playing these really cool songs that kind of got us pumped up. Just looking around and seeing all those stadium seats and being in that atmosphere was awesome.”
It would end up being the second to last time that University of Maryland hosted the state championship game. The contest moved to Ravens Stadium in Baltimore starting in 2002.
“We kind of put Cecil County on the map,” Russell said. “[Bohemia Manor head football coach] Todd [Shives] followed up two years later [when the Eagles won the 1A State Championship] and that was great. Now people know where Cecil County is.”