Gilman’s football players knew they faced an extra man when they met Archbishop Spalding in Friday afternoon’s MIAA A Conference semifinal — the emotion the Cavaliers carried in trying to extend their season for coach Mike Whittles, who is battling stage four pancreatic cancer.
The No. 9 Cavaliers moved the ball well on their opening drive, using up more than six minutes of clock, but they couldn’t reach the end zone. Once the No. 1 Greyhounds got their hands on the ball, they were off and running, scoring the first 34 points en route to a 34-14 victory and a trip to the first A Conference championship game.
Kenneth Goins scored twice, including once on a 14-yard fumble recovery to give the host Greyhounds a 21-0 halftime lead, and Cyrus Jones (14 carries for 94 yards), Shane Cockerille and Mike Knudsen each added a rushing touchdown as the Greyhounds ended the Cavaliers’ season on Whittles’ 58th birthday.
“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.”
The teams and coaches joined in a post-game huddle in which Whittles told them, “We’re going to do it again next year.”
Whittles and his captains accepted an invitation from Gilman coach Biff Poggi to join the Greyhounds on the sideline for the title game against the winner of Friday night’s other semifinal between No. 2 Calvert Hall and No. 9 McDonogh. The championship will kick off Nov. 18 at 8 p.m. at Towson University.
The Greyhounds (9-1), who are going after their 10th championship in 15 years of the Poggi coaching era, were just too tough defensively for the Cavaliers. Even without their defensive leader, junior middle linebacker Micah Kiser, who was out with a throat infection, they kept Spalding (7-4) out of the red zone until the final seven minutes.
Late in the first half, with the Greyhounds leading 14-0, the Cavaliers got a break when Robert Washington intercepted a Cockerille pass intended for Jones in the end zone. On their next play, however, the Cavaliers fumbled the snap and Goins one-handed the recovery and spun into the end zone.
With 8:52 left in the game, Knudsen’s 5-yard rushing touchdown gave the Greyhounds a 34-0 lead, but the Cavaliers rallied with two 38-yard passing touchdowns from Brian Louck to Richard Gableman in the final seven minutes, including one with three seconds to go.
“It meant a lot,” Gableman, a senior, said of the final touchdown. “That’s my last play, and it’s a touchdown, and hugging Coach Whittles, he was just, ‘Thank you for a great four years and for making this season special for me.’ We both teared up in the huddle.”
There weren’t many dry eyes as each assitant coach spoke in the post-game huddle, which included Spalding parents and Whittles’ parents. Some were too emotional to complete their comments.
“Words can’t describe this season really,” Gableman said. “It’s like a movie, the roller coaster of emotions up and down. Whenever [Whittles] is down, we bring him back up. Whenever we’re down, he brings us up. We were a unit this whole journey.”
No. 1 Gilman 34, No. 9 Spalding 14
S 0 0 0 14 -- 14
G 7 14 13 0 -- 34
G—Jones 10 run (Wey kick)
G—Cockerille 1 run (Wey kick)
G—Goins 14 fumble rec. (Wey kick)
G—Goins 17 run (kick blocked)
G—Knudsen 5 run (Wey kick)
S—Gableman 38 pass from Louck (Weiman kick)
S—Gablemen 38 pass from Louck (Weiman kick)