Former Broadneck football coach Jeff Herrick is 68 years old and admits his memory isn’t what it used to be. However, Herrick has very fond and vivid memories of the 2003 Broadneck team that made a magical march to the Class 4A state championship game.

“That was a special team on a lot of levels,” Herrick said this week.

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It took two decades for another Broadneck team to reach the state championship game. The Bruins will seek to capture their first state title when they take on perennial powerhouse Wise at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.

This year’s postseason run, highlighted by a stunning 31-7 rout of Winston Churchill in the semifinals, recalled to mind that 2003 squad that was first to play on the state championship stage.

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Ben Gabbard, one of four captains of the 2003 team, said the state championship appearance remains a shared bond among the players and many still keep in touch on social media.

“It was a very talented, experienced team that came together really well. It just seemed like we had the perfect combination of players,” Gabbard said. “We were strong at pretty much every position. There were no weak links.”

Broadneck returned 11 starters from the 2002 club that finished 9-2 but lost in the first round of the playoffs. The Bruins were senior-laden in 2003 and determined to do something special.

Broadneck had a tremendous run of success but several playoff disappointments, losing four times in either the state quarterfinals (1997, 2001) or semifinals (1998, 2000).

“Broadneck football had built up a lot of momentum from having considerable success for several previous seasons,” Gabbard said. “Everybody just bought into the idea of going unbeaten during the regular season and making a deep run in the playoffs. We wanted to take the program further than it had ever been.”

After initially running the Wing-T offense, Herrick switched to a combination of the triple-option running elements employed by Navy and run-and-shoot passing concepts that were brought to Anne Arundel County by Chuck Markiewicz. Bob Beauchemin served as offensive coordinator and the 2003 team could run or throw equally effectively.

Fullback Brandon Johnson, although just a sophomore, was a bruising runner between the tackles. Tony Marino won the starting quarterback job and was a solid passer with wide receiver Jordan Sokel as the primary target.

Johnson wound up rushing for 1,359 yards and 19 touchdowns behind a veteran offensive line anchored by Gabbard, a center who would become a starting guard at Navy. Guards Tyler Moyer and Tim Fair along with tackles Nick Weidmann and Kris Coby completed a unit that overpowered opponents at the point of attack and opened huge holes all season.

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“That was a very powerful group consisting entirely of seniors that had great chemistry,” said Gabbard, the 2003 winner of the Al Laramore Award as the best lineman in Anne Arundel County.

Broadneck’s defense was just as dominant. Nose guard Carlos James and tackle C.G. Scott lead a line that kept blockers off linebackers Fair, Moyer and Nick Sowells. The Bruins were also strong on the back end led by cornerbacks Andrew Holland and Kyle Bloomfield.

“Overall, it was a really smart, savvy team. We had a bunch of really knowledgeable football players who knew what it took to win,” Gabbard said. “We never let expectations get into our head and played every game like we were behind.”

Broadneck only allowed 52 points and pitched five shutouts in 10 regular season games. The only close contests came against Arundel (17-14) and archrival Severna Park (10-7) with Division I kicker Chris Desautels winning both with field goals.

As top seed, the Bruins had the luxury of playing at home through the state semifinals and one of the toughest playoff games came in the first round. Broadneck edged Arundel by the same 17-14 score it did during the regular season with a Desautels field goal being the difference.

An extra point by Desautels provided the winning margin in the state quarterfinals as Broadneck nipped Thomas Stone, 28-27, in overtime. That set up a semifinal showdown with Woodlawn, which featured three Division I recruits including a pair of future University of Maryland starters in two-way lineman Scott Burley and defensive end-tight end Jason Goode.

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The Warriors boasted tremendous size along both lines, but proved no match for the Bruins in a game played in a driving rainstorm. Lawrence E. Knight Stadium had a grass field at the time and it was nothing but mud after Broadneck used a ground assault to run roughshod over Woodlawn, 41-14.

“Conditions were terrible, so we just kept the ball on the ground and they couldn’t stop us,” Gabbard said. “It was the kind of game you love as an offensive lineman because we just came off the ball hard and drove them backward play after play.”

Even Herrick and his coaching staff were surprised by the blowout.

“That was probably the best game we played all season. It was like the light bulb went off and our kids played,” Herrick said. “Woodlawn was huge up front, but we dominated at the line of scrimmage and just ran the football down their throats.”

Overflow crowds of 3,000 or more packed the stands and lined the fence for all three home games and Herrick said the support lifted the Bruins.

“I think that definitely is a huge asset. Getting that type of turnout gives the team a lot of energy,” he said after the Woodlawn win.

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That set up a state championship showdown with Damascus, the Montgomery County school that had knocked Broadneck out of the playoffs the previous season. Herrick remembers arriving by bus at M&T Bank Stadium and the players asking if they could walk on the field before heading to the locker room to get dressed.

“When we got to M&T Bank Stadium and got off the bus our players acted like they had been there before; They were all business and not wide-eyed at all,” Herrick said.

A memorable campaign came to a disappointing end as Damascus beat Broadneck, 13-7, behind the play of two-way standout Matt Reidy. The Virginia Tech recruit rushed for 193 yards and two touchdowns on 45 carries as the Swarmin’ Hornets held possession for 32 minutes.

The Bruins trailed 13-0 in the fourth quarter when Moyer intercepted a pass in enemy territory. That set up a 27-yard touchdown pass from Marino to Sokel and a Desautels extra point gave Broadneck life.

“When we scored that touchdown, I just knew we could get the ball back again and win the game,” Sokel said.

Broadneck forced a punt on the ensuing possession and needed to go 88 yards in just over a minute for a touchdown to tie the score. Reidy, who also played safety, came up big again by intercepting a Marino pass to clinch the fifth state championship for Damascus (12-2).

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Broadneck was limited to 122 total yards and five first downs by a Damascus defense that defended the flexbone better than any opponent.

“Damascus was pinching their tackles earlier and slanting them a lot faster than we thought, and that caused problems with our inside running game,” Herrick said. “They also looped the linebacker around to take the quarterback if he kept the ball.”

Broadneck (13-1) set an Anne Arundel County record for most wins in a season. To this day, Herrick marvels about what the Bruins accomplished in 2003.

“This is a team that I’ll never forget for a couple reasons. I’ll remember them first for how they played together as a team. Secondly, what they accomplished went beyond everyone’s expectations. They definitely showed they deserved to be here tonight.”

Gabbard, who holds the rank of commander and serves as executive officer of the USS Harpers Ferry out of San Diego, will never forget the atmosphere at M&T Bank Stadium that night and the pride of community everyone experienced.

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“We had all grown up playing little league football together and were like, ‘Look at us now!’ We were playing for a state championship at the home of the Ravens and realized just how far we’d come,” he said. “It was a great way to cap off a really memorable season.”

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Herrick had an incredible run at Broadneck, compiling a 165-78 record over 22 seasons and leading the program to 12 playoff appearances. He ranks second all-time among Anne Arundel County coaches for wins behind Markiewicz and was inducted into the Maryland Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

Under Herrick, the Bruins captured seven region championships and reached the state semifinals four times. Speaking this week from his retirement home in Ocean Pines, Herrick acknowledged it was hard to believe it’s been 20 years since Broadneck football made its only other state final appearance.

“It’s obviously the pinnacle of any coach’s career to lead a team in the state championship. I’m just disappointed for the kids that we couldn’t follow through and find a way to win that game,” said Herrick, who is also a member of the Anne Arundel County Sports Hall of Fame.

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