The three students on Catonsville High School It's Academic team found themselves in a familiar position heading into the fifth and final round of the Super Bowl on May 12 in Washington.
Senior Chris Blair and juniors Adam Antoszewski and Abel Deneke trailed the leaders from James Hubert Blake High School in Montgomery County by about 30 points, the equivalent of a couple of correct answers.
During the previous competitions for Baltimore region supremacy, they had stormed back with a strong final round to win.
But that was not to be as the Washington region champions were too fast on the buzzer and pulled about 200 points ahead.
Catonsville finished second, ahead of Louisa County High School in central Virginia.
"The score does not reflect at all how much we prepared and what we knew," Blair said. "There were several times where I started talking to confer with my teammates because I was sure that Adam, Abel or I had buzzed in and they would say, 'Washington.'
"It was like we were buzzing for the other team basically," Deneke said, noting the buzzers at the Super Bowl were smaller than they were accustomed.
Catonsville High was crowned the Baltimore region champions by besting 81 teams earlier in the season.
Despite falling short of the championship, the three look at the silver trophy they received as the runners-up with pride.
"We went in looking at the Baltimore championship...as the Super Bowl and what they call the Super Bowl as more of an all-star game," Blair said.
In addition to the trophy, the students took home $5,750 in scholarship money from their win in the Baltimore region and their second-place finish at the Super Bowl.
The students said they didn't know how the money would be dispersed.
Catonsville High School hasn't competed in the event since at least the early 1980s, said coach Joel Miller, who leads the students with English teacher Jo-Ellen O'Dell.
Blair recalled two years ago when his team lost in the championship round for the Baltimore region by a single question.
Last year, the team lost in the semifinal round.
What separates this team from others, Miller said, is the students' receptiveness to suggestions and unquenchable thirst for knowledge.
"They're really interested in learning. They don't just try to memorize facts. They ask questions about it," said Miller, a fourth-year social studies and special education teacher. "It's just a fantastic group."
Deneke, a second-year member of the It's Academic team, said the group practices three times a week and said strategy is as important as knowledge.
"Within the question, there's many clues, but there is a giveaway clue," Deneke said. "Once you hear that, you have to press the button as fast as you can, because that's the only way you're able to beat the other teams."
Deneke said Blair, a four-year team member, is the most knowledgeable and Antoszewski, in his second year on the team, is the best at the buzzer.
Antoszewski was on the It's Academic team at Cardinal Gibbons School as a freshman and continued that involvement after the all-boys Catholic high school closed and he transferred to Catonsville High.
When possible, the team split up responsibilities. For example, the trio divided the world's continents among them and designated one person to know the capital cities for each country in that continent, Deneke said.
Two days before the Super Bowl, Deneke and Antoszewski said they would watch the recording that will be televised on June 23 at 7 p.m., regardless of the outcome.
On Monday, they said they would likely get together for only the Baltimore area championship, which airs the same day at 10 a.m.
Blair, who has participated in It's Academic for three years and served as its captain for the past two, said he has mixed emotions about the end of his career.
"It's definitely been a memorable part of my high school experience," said Blair, who will attend the University of Virginia in the fall. "I'm more happy than sad because this is the best that Catonsville has done."
Blair said he will try to come back and watch some of his teammates' competitions, especially if they return to the Super Bowl, a strong possibility.
Catonsville High is "one of the teams that people are nervous to play in the first round," Blair said.
"I think we'll be good again next year," Deneke said
"We're going to go back to the Super Bowl again," Antoszewski predicted. "We have one person to replace next year. We'll see who steps it up."
This story has been updated.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun