There is a distinct sound this time of year that can be heard up against our beautiful Catoctin Mountains, off in the distance, when the wind blows just right. You can hear whistles blowing and coaches yelling on the practice field. When we hear that distant sound, we smile and we know that Catoctin Football is back!
There are many things that define our community, just as there are many things that define the time of the year. Catoctin football does both. No one will soon forget those two epic state championships in 2009 and 2019 and what they did to electrify and unite our community.
Those were enormous wins for the Cougars and Northern Frederick County, but there is one game that will stand out in history above all the rest…..November 29, 2019: Catoctin versus Fort Hill in the second round of the playoffs. The Cougars were overwhelmed in 2018 by the Sentinels 55-6 at Cumberland, and the sting of that loss, which ended their season, was burned into their minds and their consciences. When 2019 began, they took it out on five straight teams, with wins starting against Boonsboro. In the sixth game, they suffered their only loss of the season against Walkersville by a meager field goal in overtime, which brought them to new territory: playing perennial state powerhouse Fort Hill once again, but unbelievably, here in Thurmont.
Fort Hill had never played a road game in a 1A playoff. There was complaining and grousing all over social media by Fort Hill fans, and they seemed a bit put off by the very idea that their “elite” large stadium fan base and program would have to lower themselves to play in tiny Catoctin stadium. There were suggestions that it would be impossible for our community to serve the massive Fort Hill crowd. That our facilities, traffic, and resources would be overwhelmed, and that, perhaps, the game should, after all, be played in Cumberland, to be fair to the fans. The state said: “No,” we play in Thurmont.
Then something very special happened. Signs popped up all over town…. Cougars will crush Fort Hill. Townsfolk stepped forward and volunteered to help out. Businesses mobilized. The mayor and town councils in both Thurmont and Emmitsburg got involved. The Catoctin High School administration shifted into high gear. Everywhere you went, there was this BUZZ. The excitement was palpable. On game day, busloads of Fort Hill fans poured into the streets and parking lots in Thurmont dressed in red….cocky…arrogant…. boastful, while Cougars fans just smiled because they knew. And when all the shouting, cheering, and hoarse voices faded out against those beautiful mountains that rise above the playing field, the scoreboard seemed to have grown in size with a simple message to Fort Hill: You scored ZERO points; we scored 41. Get on your buses and go back to Cumberland because tonight everyone in Thurmont is a winner.
That was the day we really learned what Catoctin Cougars football means to our community.
And now, that sound rises up again in the distance. You can feel the excitement building. The past several years have been surreal. Football canceled? A spring football season? Do we play? Are the fans allowed in the stadium? But this year feels different. All of that seems like a bad dream. Everything is coming together. The Cougars recognize that their story is special, and they need to preserve that legacy. Cougars offensive and defensive lines stand out from the 2009 state championship team, Brady Ridenour is one of several of Coach Mike Rich’s new talented coaching staff, linking past to present. They’ve added 2015 Urbana QB sensation, Donovan Pannell, to the coaching staff, who will help refine junior Catoctin quarterback Haydn Mathews into a lethal threat.
But, the real change you can see at Catoctin High School takes us back to the community. Recently, during practice, Coach Rich challenged his team by reminding them that they are part of this team, an identity, a legacy. They are being watched closely. They are no longer kids from Thurmont or Emmitsburg. They ARE Catoctin Cougars football. He called on them to step it up, to hold each other accountable, to cover the next guy’s back by doing the simple things. He asked them to be the last to leave the cafeteria. To pick up any trash left behind. To straighten up the chairs and tables. To look after their school and set an example.
“You are Cougars….don’t forget it,” Coach Rich implored, adding, “If you work hard in the little things, the rest will take care of itself at Boonsboro.”
So, the Cougars’ season and our story resume on Friday, September 2, at 7:00 p.m. in Boonsboro, just like it did three years ago.
Cougars scrimmage at North Hagerstown High School on August 20, 2022.