Chesapeake’s football season was one that few saw coming but many will remember for a long time.
The Cougars (9-4) had their magnificent 2018 campaign brought to an abrupt end in the state semifinals on November 23 in Frederick, where the host Linganore Lancers plainly exhibited why they are likely to repeat as Class 3A state champions in a 45-6 rout.
The night was cold, and the Lancers were a superior team. It was one possible ending to an unprecedentedly successful season for Chesapeake, which swept up the school community and all of Pasadena in pride and excitement while marching through a season of breakthrough accomplishments.
“Once we get past tonight, you couldn’t be more proud of this group,” said Chesapeake head coach Rob Elliott. “We really didn’t know what we had coming in. We knew we had the receivers and the quarterback, a brand-new offensive line. There were a lot of question marks. I’m happy the way we played as a team and a family. We’ve just got to get past this one tonight and then look back and celebrate the entirety of the season.”
The season brimmed with success right from the start, and Chesapeake built momentum all the way to the state tournament. The Cougars started 6-0—the best start in program history—notching wins over Towson, Severna Park, Catonsville, Glen Burnie, Landsdowne and South River. The 21-10 win at Severna Park was spread over two days because of a lightning delay. Chesapeake faced early deficits against both Catonsville and Landsdowne but combined for 94 points to come back and emphatically defeat both opponents in routs, and they posted a 14-0 shutout of Glen Burnie in between.
The Cougars made everyone in Anne Arundel County sit up and pay attention with a come-from-behind, 29-24, homecoming win over South River that moved the team to 6-0.
Despite losses in three of their next four games, including a 28-27 Week-10 Dena Bowl loss to Northeast, a resurgent program in its own right that did Pasadena doubly proud this season along with Chesapeake, the Cougars entered the postseason with confidence. They avenged the previous week’s loss to the Eagles by posting a 38-13 win over Northeast on November 9 in the first round of the 3A East playoffs.
Chesapeake overcame an early 7-0 hole against the Eagles, getting a rushing score by Khalil Gary, a punt-return touchdown by Russell Tongue, a touchdown pass from Dylan Young to Tongue, a 37-yard field goal by Colton Spangler and rushing scores by Jaylen Richardson and Zach Schuler in victory. An interception by Marcus Neal; fumble recoveries by Jimmy Revels-Allen, Cody Carpenter and Zach Baumann; and a sack by Devin Forrester highlighted the performance of the defense, which held Northeast’s dynamic offense scoreless from the opening touchdown until another touchdown in the game’s final seconds.
It was the first playoff win in program history for Chesapeake, which had made its first two playoff appearances in 2015 and 2017 but hadn’t broken through for a win.
Elliott put the playoff victory over Northeast in context.
“When I took over, Chesapeake was 3-27 the three years before I took over,” he said. “I played here, I helped build the youth program, and when I interviewed for this job, I said, ‘Listen. Everybody you interview is going to come here as a stepping stone to get somewhere else. I’m interviewing because I want to coach here.’ [All the coaches], just the pride that the community has, Chesapeake football is something to be proud of. It’s been a lot of hard work, without a doubt, it’s been the kids buying in, and I’m still taking it in. …I just go back to resiliency. It’s a hardworking group. They’re not the biggest kids, they’re not all the fastest kids, but they work their asses off. I’ll take that over a super-talented team that just don’t work. I’ll take a group that just grinds and works, and I think that’s what we have, is a group of grinders.”
Chesapeake could have lost the following week and still been proud of its season, but the Cougars had different ideas. They took their grind on the road, trekking all the way down to Salisbury to hand J.M. Bennett a 36-21 defeat and deliver the program and school its first region championship. Spangler caught a touchdown and kicked three field goals and three extra points in the win, while Brandon Hackney ran for a touchdown, Richardson ran for a touchdown, Hunter Davis caught a touchdown pass and Young threw two touchdown passes.
The region championship marks a peak achievement for the Cougar football program, which will join the school’s myriad successful programs in the gymnasium’s collection of banners commemorating county and region champions.
“It makes me feel happy that we gave it our all and how we got [to the state tournament] in the first place, and I want to give it out to my teammates,” said Tongue, a senior. “We had a hell of a season. Chesapeake’s banner for regions, there’s no football, so it’s nice to see our name go up there for once.”
Once in the state tournament, there was no shame in being overmatched by Linganore. The Lancers showed superior size, speed and depth. Linganore scored on its first three drives to take a 20-0 lead, owned the line of scrimmage on both offense and defense and stretched their lead out to 35-0 by halftime. The result was never in doubt.
Still, Chesapeake and the fans who traveled up to Frederick reflected proudly. Senior offensive lineman Matt Blades said the linemen exceeded expectations after graduating last year’s entire starting unit.
“It’s just crazy to me, [last year] having a whole O-line of six-foot-four, 300-pound kids, to [this year] me being the biggest,” Blades said with a laugh. “It’s just crazy what we’ve been able to do. We’ve gone into games knowing we wouldn’t be able to out-strength people, but we’d be able to outplay them and out-scheme them.”
Tongue distributed thanks and credit all around him.
“I do want to give a special shout out to all the fans that came out and supported for all the games, because that was a big part for most of the games,” Tongue said. “They supported us all the way, and we couldn’t have done it without them. I want to give out to all my coaches. They prepared us for the season and got us all the way here, especially a big shout out to Coach Rob. We couldn’t do it without him, and it’s nice to finish out the season with him.”
Spangler enjoyed the feeling of contributing to a winner and said the perspective around the county of Chesapeake has changed.
“I think we accomplished a lot,” said Spangler, a senior. “I don’t think a lot of people respected the Chesapeake program. I think now we’re starting to build a reputation with Rob and our coaching staff and all the players.”
The Cougars also carried the torch for Anne Arundel County. They were the only county team in any state tournament, and Elliott noted that the support extended beyond Pasadena.
“I heard from a lot of the coaches in the county supporting us and wishing us luck,” he said, noting the uniquely enjoyable experience of practicing on Thanksgiving Day. “Thanksgiving Day practice was incredible. Instead of getting up and watching football on TV, we got up and practiced. … But, in our gym, the banners are on the wall for all the region and county championships, and one of the few sports not on that wall is football, until this year. That’s what I just told them. From here on, people are going to walk into that gym and see up on that wall, and it’s you guys that did it.”
Blades zoomed out beyond just the state semifinal loss and the successful season on the field.
“We have one big family here, and it hurts to see it go, but I know I’m going to be friends with these guys for life,” Blades said.