In March of 2004, Adam MoeZaw was born.
Later that fall, the Frederick High football team finished 9-1 under coach Vince Ahearn and qualified for the Class 3A West playoffs. The Cadets won their first playoff game over Seneca Valley 18-7 before falling to eventual champion Northwest 41-27.
Now MoeZaw is a sophomore lineman for Frederick — a center on offense, a tackle on defense — as he and the Cadets prepare to play their first playoff game since the year of his birth.
“Coach [Adam] Wetzel, [the team’s offensive coordinator], says points matter, and it’s so true what he says,” MoeZaw said prior to the state of Tuesday’s practice.
The difference between Frederick (4-5) making the playoffs and breaking a 15-year drought and being left on the outside once again was a 47-46 road win on Oct. 11 over a Tuscarora team now coached by Ahearn.
The Cadets overcame a 10-point deficit in the second half and finished one point ahead (33-32) of Tuscarora for the final spot in the 3A West playoffs. Frederick will travel to face top-seeded Linganore (8-1) — the only Frederick County team not on its schedule this season — at 7 p.m. Friday in a first-round game.
“We took [Coach Wetzel’s message] to heart. Points matter,” MoeZaw said. “We didn’t see that until that situation because one point determined if we made the playoffs or not.”
The Cadets parted company following last Thursday’s practice not knowing if their season was over or not. There was no game for them Friday night since Thomas Johnson folded its varsity program for the season, marking the first time since the schools started playing in 1966 that the city game would not be played.
With a forfeit victory already in hand, Frederick still needed Tuscarora to lose at Oakdale and North Hagerstown to lose to visiting Spring Mills, West Virginia.
“It was kind of a bittersweet moment,” senior quarterback Kisaye Barnes said of the end of Thursday’s practice. “It was either this is it or we have a big opportunity. I kind of enjoyed it instead of being sad about it.”
The following day, Frederick’s varsity players piled onto a bus to head over to TJ and support the Cadets’ junior varsity team as it took on the Patriots.
Varsity coach Kevin Pirri spent most of the game pressing refresh on his phone for scoring updates on the Tuscarora and North Hagerstown games. Brandon Brewbaker, the team’s public address announcer and former assistant coach, paced the sidelines waiting for news to trickle in.
“I haven’t been in the playoffs since I was in high school, my senior year (2007),” said Pirri, who is from Downingtown, Pennsylvania, outside of Philadelphia.
“I have been to playoff games in Frederick County. I worked a state playoff game three years ago. So, I have seen it. I have been around it. But I haven’t experienced it [as a coach].”
North Hagerstown played earlier in the evening. So its game was over before the Frederick JV had finished blowing out TJ, 40-18.
The Hubs fell 35-21 to Spring Mills to fall to 3-6 overall.
Meanwhile, over at Oakdale, Tuscarora trailed Oakdale by a substantial margin. But Pirri advised his varsity players to keep their emotions in check and not start celebrating until the result was official and the JV players had a chance to finish off their victory.
As it became apparent the Cadets were going to the playoffs, Pirri and the rest of the coaches on the Frederick High staff began pulling JV players out of the game who they felt they might need against Linganore.
Then, on the bus ride home, Tuscarora’s game against Oakdale went final. The Titans lost 42-16 to fall to 3-6, having lost each of their last five games.
Pirri announced the official result to his players, and the bus erupted in joy.
“We were all celebrating,” MoeZaw said. “We were all very happy.”
For Pirri, who won one game in each of his first three seasons on the job before the team improved to 4-6 last year, and Barnes, a three-year starter at quarterback, clinching a playoff spot was especially meaningful.
“When I first started here, so much of it was, ‘We used to be this,’ or ‘We used to be that.’ Well, we are not [anymore],” Pirri said.
“So, it’s playoff week. It’s a new season. It’s time to move forward. Everything else doesn’t matter. It’s us versus [Linganore] on Friday night.”
Barnes heard all of the criticism and the jokes that people—even his fellow classmates—were making at the team’s expense when they were struggling to win a game. Yet he remained determined to work hard and pull the program out of its rut.
“It means a lot to me that the program is finally heading in the right direction, and we are putting Frederick football back on the map,” he said.
As for facing Linganore, a traditional state power, on Friday, Barnes said, “It will be really scary or really exciting. Some of [my teammates] have never had an experience like this before. I kind of got a taste of playing [in big games] growing up and playing in North Carolina.
“But it’s going to be a culture shock for a lot of these guys. So, what are you going to do with it?”