Gentlemen, strap on your helmets.
That's the advice Calvert Hall senior running back/linebacker CJ Williams gave to his Cardinal teammates and Gilman opponents alike for their showdown in the inaugural Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference championship game Nov. 18.
Williams said both 9-1 teams better "buckle their chin straps" for what is expected to be another knock-down, drag-out confrontation in what has become the area's best gridiron rivalry when the teams collide at Johnny Unitas Stadium at 8 p.m.
"We've been waiting for this," he said, following the Cardinals' 16-15 triumph over McDonogh in a conference semifinal Nov.11. "They'll be ready and so will we."
After beating Archbishop Spalding in a semifinal earlier that day, to a man, Gilman players and coaches were not eager to say which team they would rather face in the title bout.
To the Greyhounds, it was six of one, half-dozen of the other, regarding their title game foe.
The Greyhounds (9-1) made sure of being there by racing to a 34-0 advantage over the Cavaliers (7-4) and waltzing to a 34-14 victory in Roland Park.
Senior Kenneth Goins scored twice, once on a 14-yard fumble recovery to give the host Greyhounds a 21-0 halftime lead, and classmate Cyrus Jones (14 carries for 94 yards) and junior Shane Cockerille and Mike Knudsen each added a rushing touchdown as the Greyhounds ended the Cavaliers' season on Spalding coach Mike Whittles' 58th birthday.
Whittles, who is fighting stage-four pancreatic cancer, is a good friend of Gilman coach Biff Poggi.
"We knew they pretty much had nothing to lose," Jones said. "Their coach is going through a tough situation in his life right now and they wanted to win for him. We knew it was going to be a fight, so we had to stay focused and understand what was at stake. It was a big game for us as well. For the seniors, it's our last game playing on this field ever, so we wanted to go out on a strong note."
As far as which team he preferred to face, Jones, who is mulling collegiate scholarship offers from such big-time programs as Alabama and defending national champion Auburn, was non-committal.
"I don't know who we match up better with," Jones added. "We just have to come out and play hard."
Both teams did just that in their epic regular-season battle on Oct. 7 won by the Greyhounds, 28-21, on Jones' 97-yard punt return with three minutes remaining.
Williams was instrumental in the Cardinals' rally past the Eagles after trailing, 15-3, with 8:52 remaining in the fourth quarter.
First, he hauled in a swing pass from senior quarterback Thomas Stuart at the 8-yard line and somehow managed to plow into the end zone with two Eagle defenders attempting to bring him down with 7:23 to go.
On its next series, Calvert Hall used the same duo to strike deep into McDonogh territory when Williams grabbed Stuart's pass over the middle and churned for 15 precious extra yards.
"I knew the safety was right behind me," Williams said. "I shielded him from the ball and then put my shoulder down and kept running."
The 40-yard pass play put the ball at the McDonogh 22.
Two plays later, Stuart found senior wideout Trevor Williams with the tying score which was broken by junior Austen Strachen's point-after with 1:45 remaining.
"When we were way behind, CJ came up to me on the sideline and said, 'Coach, we've got this. Trust me.' The kid just has a tremendous will to win."