While there was some controversy about the idea of a playoff in a league with only seven teams, there's no doubt the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference championship between top-seeded Gilman (10-1) and second-seeded Calvert Hall (9-2) on Friday night kept the 5,728 fans at Johnny Unitas Stadium riveted for the entire game — and two overtime periods.
The 34-32 Gilman victory will be talked about for a long time because of the 82-yard drive the Greyhounds produced in the fourth quarter, wearing down the Cardinals by pounding them with a relentless ground game powered by senior running back Cyrus Jones and junior quarterback Shane Cockerille.
In fact, Cockerille's 1-yard plunge and his conversion pass to junior Henry Poggi with 1:55 remaining gave the Greyhounds their first lead, 20-14.
However, Calvert Hall and senior quarterback Thomas Stuart, a master of last-minute comebacks, directed a crisp six-play drive that ended with the third of his five touchdown passes, an 18-yard strike to senior Brandon Neverdon with 28 seconds to go.
Calvert Hall's euphoria was short-lived, though, when the extra point was missed and the game went to overtime.
In the first overtime on fourth down, Stuart rainbowed a throw that Neverdon pulled down for a 26-20 Cardinal advantage.
After Jones scored to tie it on a 1-yard dive, Gilman fumbled the point-after snap and Calvert Hall was penalized for jumping on the prone holder.
That gave Gilman the ball at the Calvert Hall 5-yard line on its next overtime possession, and Jones scored on his first carry from there. He added the conversion run for a 34-26 lead.
Stuart then found junior Kyle Levere on an 11-yard touchdown pass to close the deficit, but could not do the same on the ensuing conversion pass that was knocked down by junior Wyatt Dickerson.
"My hat goes off to their kids and their program," Calvert Hall coach Donald Davis said. "They played awesome tonight."
Calvert Hall struck first on a six-play, 61-yard drive capped by a 15-yard pass from Stuart to fellow senior Trevor Williams, who broke a tackle at the 3-yard line before crossing the goal line. Junior Austen Strachen's conversion kick made it 7-0 with 4:10 left in the first quarter.
The Cardinals missed on a golden opportunity to add to their lead when senior corner back Da'Quan Davis intercepted Cockerille's pass in the right flat and streaked down the sideline, although a penalty brought the ball back to the Gilman 46 and the drive stalled.
They did, however, capitalize after a 60-yard lob from Stuart to senior wideout Matt Dubuque to put them within striking distance. On 4th-and-10 from the Gilman 14, Stuart found senior CJ Williams streaking over the middle for another score and a 14-0 advantage with 5:17 remaining in the first half.
Trailing by two touchdowns, Gilman called on Jones to rally the troops and he did just that, carrying the ball four times for 41 yards and catching a pass for 9 more yards on a 65-yard drive finished by a Cockerille keeper with 1:27 to go before the intermission.
It took the Greyhounds another quarter to score again when senior Kenneth Goins powered in from the 3-yard line on a series that began at the Cardinal 35. Cockerille kept the sequence alive on a 4th-and-10 completion to junior tight end Micah Kiser after scrambling out of a sack attempt and rolling to his left long enough for his receiver to shake free.
That left Calvert Hall with a 14-12 lead with 46 seconds left in the third period.
"I really feel bad for Calvert Hall," Gilman coach Biff Poggi said. "We were on the losing side last year, and we know how they feel. But Jones said, 'Ride me. ' He wanted the ball in overtime, he wanted it for the two-point conversion, he wanted to put us on his back. The team rallied around him."