More than three hours before game time, Stevenson alumnus Scott Murray stood amid a growing contingent of tailgaters in a parking lot overlooking the school's new $9 million stadium. He couldn't help but smile.
"We started as just a small girls school," said Murray, a 2001 graduate of the one-time commuter school known until three years ago as Villa Julie College. "Football kind of puts us on the map."
The feeling was shared by many among the sellout crowd of an announced 3,500 on Saturday night, as the Owings Mills school played its first Division III home game and came away with a 46-43 win in double overtime over nonconference foe Christopher Newport.
Trailing by three in the second extra period, Mustangs quarterback C.J. Hopson, throwing under pressure, lofted a pass off his back foot and found Jeromie Miller, who won a jump ball in the corner of the end zone.
The play set off a wild celebration after a marathon game that featured 944 yards of combined total offense.
"It put a big exclamation mark on a pretty big day for the university," Stevenson coach Ed Hottle said.
Hopson, a transfer from Bucknell with two years of eligibility remaining, finished 19-for-37 for 284 yards and five touchdowns.
"It was kind of a busted play," Hopson said. "I saw Jeromie taking off deep, and figured I'd get rid of it -- throw it up for him and let him make a play. I didn't see the catch or the touchdown. I just heard the crowd."
The result made a night of fireworks, sky divers and a plethora of program firsts all the more enjoyable to school officials.
"[The atmosphere] is hard to believe," school president Dr. Kevin Manning said. "We had a pep rally [Friday] night with about 2,000 people. It's amazing to see how the community comes together around football."
That was precisely the plan when school officials took their first major step toward launching the program in 2005, buying the vacant Ravens facility from the city. The university honored that legacy during pre-game ceremonies by recognizing Tom Matte, O.J. Brigance and Jonathan Ogden, whose teams -- the Colts, Stallions and Ravens -- all practiced at the site at one time.
The history of the school's athletic endeavors, however, is somewhat different.
"I graduated in '85, and we didn't even have a gym," said Traci Mooney of Lansdowne. "It's always been a career-oriented school, so it's good that they're getting the name out to others."
Part of that plan has included the formation of a marching band, led by Mark Lortz, who spent 15 years directing the band at Westminster High. Lortz said he began the summer hoping to attract 30 members but wound up with 75.
The band and the school's newly minted fight song played starring rolls on a night when the freshman-dominated Mustangs struggled at times to keep pace with the Captains, who have qualified for the Division III tournament seven times in their first decade of play.
Christopher Newport scored the first touchdown at the stadium when Kentel Noel took a handoff at the Stevenson 15-yard line and ran untouched around the right side with 6:04 left in the first quarter.
Stevenson scored its first points with 1:25 remaining in the quarter when Hopson rolled right, felt pressure, changed directions and found running back Marcus Holley for a 5-yard touchdown.
For many in the crowd, the end result mattered little.
"I'm extremely excited about it," said Chelsea Moog, a sophomore from Pasadena. "I feel like we're no longer the little school that everybody just dumps to the side. We're Stevenson people know us now."