As he walked off the field Thursday night with his first win in hand as Tuscarora’s football coach, a voice trailed after Curtiss Belcher Jr.
“Coach Belcher! Coach Belcher!” the voice cried. It belonged to Catoctin’s Mike Rich, the only other first-year coach in Frederick County during this strange, pandemic-shortened spring football season. His Cougars had just fallen to Belcher’s Titans 28-21 at, of all places, Oakdale High School since it had a turf field and the two competing schools did not.
Rich extended his hand toward Belcher and said, “I know how special it is to get your first win with a school. I got to experience it two weeks ago when we beat TJ. I just wanted to say congratulations.”
Arriving at this moment had been quite a journey for Belcher and the Titans. Seven weeks ago, he and his players were rebooting a program without the traditional prep time. Belcher said it was like trying to teach a foreign language with only three weeks to prepare for the first scrimmage and a month until the first official game.
Then, they took Thomas Johnson to overtime before falling by one point in Week 1. They were blown out by unbeaten Walkersville in Week 2 before playing Frederick High competitively last week.
On Thursday night, they finally broke through against a badly wounded Catoctin team, snapping an eight game losing streak in the process that dates to Oct. 4, 2019.
“I told them [after the game] this is the first brick of what we need to be as a program from here on out,” Belcher said. “Today is the first brick.”
Laying that first brick required some bold decision making and some self-belief.
The Titans (1-3) trailed 7-0, and it was fourth-and-2 from the Catoctin 48 with just under four minutes to play in the first half when junior quarterback Andrew Cramer handed the ball to senior running back Amonte Green.
“At first, I was just trying to get the first down,” Green said. “Then, I saw it open up, and I was just gone.”
Belcher decided to go for it on fourth down because “if we are going to talk about having a mentality, then we need to actually be about it, and we have to show belief in our young men,” he said. “They showed belief in themselves.”
He added, “We need to be physical. When it’s short yardage, we need to be able to line up and get 3 or 4 yards.”
Handing the ball to Green was a no-brainer in that situation because “Amonte has been our best effort-guy on both sides of the ball this year,” Belcher said. “He wants it. Period. He wants it. If you watch tape, on offense or defense, he is our best hustle grade every single week.”
Green added a 6-yard scoring run with 3 minutes, 17 seconds left in the third quarter to put Tuscarora ahead for good.
The Titans’ also got an 18-yard scoring run from junior running back Ayivon Marshall and a 56-yard punt return for a touchdown by freshman Hunter Thompson.
Their defense was pretty stout throughout the game, as well.
Catoctin (1-2) scored its only points on a 2-yard touchdown run by Joseph McCallion and a 27-yard run by quarterback Dylan Click.
Both occurred in the final 5:40 of the first half and were set up by Tuscarora miscues, including one on special teams that handed the Cougars the ball on the Titans’ 2-yard line after the punter’s knee hit the ground.
Click also intercepted a pass from Cramer in the final minutes of the first half and then scored three plays later.
The Cougars have been bitten hard by the injury bug. There were 10 players that missed Thursday’s game due to injury. Most of them were starters, including star running back Carson Sickeri, who broke his wrist last week in a loss to Brunswick and is done for the season, and starting quarterback Ryan Orr, who suffered a head injury two weeks ago in a win over Thomas Johnson.
“It’s unbelievable,” Rich said of the rash of injuries. “I have never seen anything like it.”
There were seven or eight players for the Cougars who were thrust into the varsity lineup after playing junior-varsity football last week.
“The kids are playing as hard as they can for as long as they can,” Rich said. “We can’t ask anymore of the guys we are putting out on the field. If you look at the roster we started with and where we are at now, it’s completely different.”