It is perhaps the most highly anticipated day in Germantown, the King’s Trophy Game between rivals Seneca Valley and Northwest high schools — but it won’t take place for two years.
The annual high school football game between the Germantown football powers will take a two-year hiatus, due to the planned expansion of the Maryland state high school playoff system and the growing student population at Northwest High School.
The game between the Seneca Valley Screamin’ Eagles and the Northwest Jaguars has been played every year since the first year Northwest fielded a team in 1999. It is one of the few regular-season high school football games that awards a trophy to the winner. The King’s Trophy allows the winner to have bragging rights to call themselves kings of Germantown.
There is a reason they call it the King’s Trophy. The two schools hold 15 Maryland State Championship titles between them since 1976. Seneca Valley holds 12 championships, while Northwest holds three. That works out to a state championship football team, on average, every three years.
In the head-to-head match-up for the King’s Trophy, Seneca Valley holds an 11-9 record over their cross-town rivals, but the Jags have won the last two meetings.
The elimination of the King’s Trophy Game comes at a time when Seneca Valley High School and its football program are in a time of rebuilding. In the case of the school, the rebuilding is very literal, as a new school building is being constructed on the school grounds as the old building continues to function. However, no football games have been played at Seneca in two seasons, and the Eagles will not play home games until the new stadium opens in 2021. All Seneca Valley “home” football games are being played at Gaithersburg High School.
Last year, the Eagles posted a record of 2-8, the worst in school history, and longtime football coach and Seneca alumnus Fred Kim was dismissed after 35 years of coaching football in some capacity at Seneca Valley.
According to Seneca Valley’s Athletic Director, Jesse Irvin, the decision to shelve the King’s Trophy Game had nothing to do with the rebuilding of the program and the removal of Kim as head coach. He said the decision to not play the game was made long before the decision to replace Coach Kim. “The Northwest game will 100 percent be re-added to our schedule in 2021,” said Irvin.
“It has to do with the competitive balance of our schedule,” said Irvin. “We are the smallest school in Montgomery County and Northwest is one of the biggest. Both schools mutually agreed that we would take a two-year hiatus from our rivalry and renew it in 2021.”
The gap between the number of students at Seneca Valley and Northwest has been widening for a number years. Northwest had an official enrollment of 2,508 students in the 2017-2018 school year, while Seneca Valley had just 1,187 students in the same year, according to MCPS.
High school football scheduling and regional placement are done in two-year cycles. Two years ago, Seneca Valley along with MCPS schools Poolesville and Damascus dropped from playing in the 3A Division to playing in the 2A Division where they would play schools with enrollment numbers that reflected the size of the schools.
The new construction at Seneca Valley will increase capacity to about 2,500 while reducing the enrollment at both Northwest and neighboring Clarksburg High School. Once the enrollment at Seneca Valley increases, it is expected the football team, and all sports would move back up to the larger divisions.
Indeed, for the next two years, Seneca Valley will be playing an Independent schedule, and not be associated with a specific division or region, according to Irvin. “What this basically means,” said Irvin, “is that we will not be in a division in Montgomery County and it allowed us flexibility in playing more out of county games. We were able to add historically strong programs like Walkersville to our schedule, and we also added South Hagerstown in Washington County and Pikesville of Baltimore County.”
Seneca Valley’s nine-game schedule includes three non-county games in 2019. The Screaming Eagles will open with Watkins Mill, followed by games against Magruder, Walkersville in Frederick County, Poolesville, Damascus, South Hagerstown, Rockville, Whitman, and Pikesville.
While the Eagles are playing an “Independent” schedule, they will be able to compete in the 2A playoffs. “We believe [the change in the schedule] will enable us to field a competitive team that can complete and seed well in the 2A state playoffs,” said Irvin.
Irvin said that the search for Kim’s replacement was ongoing with about 20 candidates submitting applications to coach one of the most storied football programs in the state. While he would not give any information on candidate’s identities, he said that the pool had been narrowed down to five top candidates. Irvin said the top candidates were being interviewed this week and an announcement of a new head coach is expected to happen next week.
The scheduling change comes as the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association, the governing body which oversees all public high school sports in the state is revamping the playoff system to make it more equitable and more accessible for more schools. While the change is not official until a vote by MPSSAA later this year, the new system will allow for eight teams from each region to make the playoffs, rather just four.
The move will create an additional round of playoffs and reduce the number of regular season games from 10 to nine. While it shortens the regular season, it will make for a more exciting season as teams with 5-4 records will be playing for a playoff spot in the last game of the season instead of knowing that they are already eliminated.
“I am disappointed about not playing Seneca,” said Northwest Football Coach Mike Neubeiser. “There isn’t anything like the Seneca/ Northwest rivalry. The QO/ Northwest rivalry is exciting, but there is something magical about Seneca/Northwest. All the students come out to that game for the King’s Trophy. It is always a huge crowd, and it is always exciting. It will be missed. I am looking forward to getting back to it in two years.”
Northwest’s 2019 schedule includes eight games against 4A West region rivals and one non-regional rival. The Jaguars will open with Whitman, and play non-4A West powerhouse Paint Branch, followed, by games with Bethesda-Chevy Chase, Richard Montgomery, Gaithersburg, Churchill, Clarksburg, Quince Orchard, and ending the regular season with Wootton.
Photos by Germantown Pulse