Just three weeks after being on the short end of a 48-12 rout in its annual battle with Gilman, a rapidly maturing McDonogh squad will get another crack at the Greyhounds when the archrivals meet next weekend in a Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference semifinal.
The suddenly confident and fifth-seeded Eagles earned the right for a rematch by trouncing fourth-seeded Loyola, 28-7, in the first round of the playoffs on Saturday at chilly Hargaden Field in Towson.
In garnering just its third win of the season, McDonogh (3-7, 2-4 conference) proved that its young talent is just beginning to blossom.
The change in team dynamics, though, began when Travis Wood was inserted into the lineup at quarterback and the senior helped engineer a 24-0 victory over Mount St. Joseph.
While he also was in charge during the loss to Gilman, Wood bounced back against Loyola (5-5, 2-3) in a big way.
"We decided a couple of weeks ago to go with the senior," McDonogh coach Dom Damico said. "We had a talented freshmen (Jansen Durham) starting, and we feel he's going to be a very good player. We just felt a senior might be able to handle the pressure a little bit better. And he's been handling the offense perfectly. I'm really proud of Travis."
Against Loyola, Wood completed a 32-yard pass to senior wideout Taysean Scott to set up junior Syl Brown's 4-yard touchdown run on the Eagles' first scoring drive.
Senior Jabari Weems' interception — the first of four by McDonogh — at the Dons' 30-yard line gave the Eagles an opportunity to add to their lead and they cashed in on another 4-yard burst from Brown to take a 14-0 advantage.
Wood's 16-yard strike to Scott upped the margin to 22-0 before Loyola replied on a 40-yard pass from junior quarterback Danny Cameron to junior wideout Trevor Janoskie for the Dons' lone score.
However, Wood teamed up with Weems on a 24-yard pass play to put McDonogh ahead, 28-7, with 3:28 remaining in the first half.
The Eagles let their defense finish the job against Loyola, which advanced as far as the McDonogh 1-yard line in the second half but could not score.
"We gave them too many short field in the first half, and then we couldn't take advantage (of good field position) in the second half," said first-year Loyola coach Brant Hall, whose team topped the Eagles, 21-6, during the regular season. "But you have to give credit to McDonogh's defense. They stacked the box and put a lot of pressure on Danny. They have a group of young players, but they're really talented."
M 6 22 0 0 28
L 0 7 0 0 7
M-Brown 4 run (kick failed)
M-Brown 4 run (Cornwell pass from Wood)
M-Scott 16 pass from Wood (Weems pass from Wood)
L-Janoskie 40 pass from Cameron (Bradley kick)
M-Weems 24 pass from Wood (run failed)Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun