Less than a decade after they started handing out helmets and shoulder pads at Oakdale High School, the Bears reached the top of the mountain in football.
To cap a remarkably dominant season that will place it among the best teams to ever play in Frederick County, Oakdale routed Glenelg 35-7 in Saturday night’s Class 2A championship game at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
“Uphill” was how coach Kurt Stein described the journey from the start of the program in the fall of 2010 until now. But it never really felt that way at all during the Bears’ ninth season overall and eighth on the varsity level.
No team got within 17 points of Oakdale as time expired all season. Whatever anyone threw at the Bears, they always had an answer.
Their 13-0 season included a jaw-dropping 56-7 road win Oct. 5 at Linganore, a team that came within a few points of claiming a second consecutive 3A championship.
“I always thought they would [win a state title]. But it’s never done until it’s done,” Stein said. “And so, after tonight, it’s finally done. You know, they cemented their legacy forever, like I always talked to them about that they would. They got the job done.”
Stein then turned to the players who were seated alongside of him in the postgame press conference and, struggling to fight back tears, uttered, “I love you, boys. Good job.”
The players responded in turn, “I love you, too, coach.”
Prior to the game, Stein read a speech he gave years ago at a postseason banquet to Oakdale’s first graduating class of players. After an inaugural season spent on the junior-varsity level, the Bears went 0-10 and 2-8 in their first two seasons of varsity play.
Even back then, when the dream of winning a state championship seemed impossible, Stein kept reassuring everyone that it really wasn’t that far away.
There was a talented group of players, including Division I quarterback recruit Collin Schlee (Kent State), five-star kicking prospect Justin Ritter, Division I running back prospect Simeon Sabvute, linebacker Ethan Martin and receivers Noah Miller and Blake Baxter, that had just won a youth football championship and would soon be on their way to help the high school team do the same.
A year later, Maurio Goings — a three-year starter for the Bears at middle linebacker and another Division I prospect — moved into the school district and joined the cause.
“Because of the help of these young men,” Stein said, “I cashed in on some promises tonight that I made to some people that graduated before these guys. I told those kids that they went through what they went through in order that these guys that came after them could be champions.”
Oakdale and Glenelg were both playing in their first state championship game.
The Gladiators (13-1) had been knocking on the door in recent years, falling in the state semifinals in each of the last two seasons and three of the last four overall.
With Yale recruit Wande Owens, who finished the season with 2,680 yards and 40 touchdowns as a senior running back, and a formidable defense, Glenelg harbored realistic hopes of coming away with the championship.
But the Gladiators, like every other Oakdale opponent this season, just could not handle everything the Bears brought to the table.
Schlee, in the final performance of a brilliant two-year run as Oakdale’s starting quarterback, accounted for four touchdowns.
After Glenelg scored a touchdown on the game-opening drive, marking just the second time all season the Bears had trailed in a game, Schlee took off down the sideline on a 66-yard quarterback keeper for a touchdown.
He also connected with junior Ethan Reifer and Baxter on 14-yard touchdown passes and eventually capped the scoring on an 18-yard early in the fourth quarter.
“I am very excited and happy, not just for myself, but for the whole team,” said Schlee, who passed for 210 yards and ran for 89. “You know, 13-0 is pretty good. We got a state title for our school, and that was pretty good.”
Oakdale scored 35 unanswered points against a Glenelg team that hadn’t allowed more than 19 all season. The Gladiators had posted eight shutouts in 13 games coming in and had yet to allow a point in the playoffs.
The Bears also held Owens to 103 yards on 26 carries and a single touchdown run on the Gladiators’ first possession that covered 10 yards. It marked the second time this season he finished with fewer than two touchdowns in a game, and it was his lowest rushing output of the season in a game that went the full four quarters.
“Oakdale is a tremendous football team. They do a little bit of everything,” said Glenelg coach Butch Schaffer, who lives in the Oakdale school district and has kids that go to the school. “Give credit to them. They made the plays that they had to make.”
The Bears are the sixth different Frederick County school to win a state title in football since 2009, joining Linganore (2009, '17), Middletown (2011-13), Urbana (2010), Catoctin (2009) and Walkersville (2016).
"As you saw on the field, we are mature group [with 26 seniors]. We don't make a lot of mistakes," Stein said. "You know, we just do our job. I am super proud of them. I am going to miss them. But, you know, I think it was worth it for the last 14 weeks. Don you guys think?"