As kicker Cooper McGeehan’s field goal sailed between the goal posts with 10.5 seconds left in the 61st Big 33 Football Classic, he fell to the ground as three dozen Maryland players streamed around him with euphoria overflowing.
Maryland, the undeniable underdogs after dropping five of the previous six classics, brought down rival Pennsylvania, 9-6, in one of the lowest-scoring games in Big 33 history but an unforgettable one for the players in black.
“I’m never going to forget this moment,” said McGeehan, a River Hill graduate who connected for field goals of 42 yards, 33 yards and the game-winning 39-yarder.
The Maryland team pieced together a 15-play drive under the wire to put itself deep in Pennsylvania territory and then withheld the uncharacteristically quiet opposing offense to a fourth-down fizzle.
Quarterback Kendell Bonner (Quince Orchard, Air Force) rolled out a drive that put McGeehan in the position he needed to be in to notch the final score — a place they never would have reached had they not stymied the aggressive Pennsylvania defense time and again.
But for Bonner, the game itself couldn’t match up to the experiences he’d been able to provide someone else.
“They say this game is more than football, and it is. My buddy’s name is Nate,” said Bonner, referencing the intellectually disabled child he had the opportunity to share the game with. “Winning the game is one thing, but after, it’s pictures with the buddies.”
For Maryland coach Reggie White, sinking Pennsylvania was akin to a little Division II school defeating a Penn State type.
“It feels so good to win this game, for the whole state, for the program, for the MFCA, for Maryland — for everyone who worked so hard to make Maryland football what it is,” White said. “This goes to them. I’m just happy, man.”
Usually the kings of the Big 33, Pennsylvania could not capitalize on in its drives and was often unable to convert a first down after moving close to the end zone. Maryland converted 12 first downs to Pennsylvania’s seven.
But Bonner, who passed for 113 yards to lead Maryland, knew he had to support his defense’s heroic effort to pressure Pennsylvania.
“We were just pounding, pounding the ball,” he said. “Our defense was working so hard to keep them off the end zone, and we just had to work harder.”
Tied at 3 going into the second quarter, the two sides exchanged drives, and at one point, fists.
Pennsylvania’s Avery Young recovered a blocked field goal and tore 69 yards down the field for a touchdown. The Pennsylvania crowd roared — and then was quickly silenced. An illegal procedure flag negated the touchdown, keeping the game tied.
Then in the third quarter, after the two traded field goals to up it to 6-6, Pennsylvania’s whistling pass into the end zone fell into the hands of Maryland’s Brandon Savage (Milford Mill), the team’s MVP, to prevent the touchdown.
“I seen the ball was in the rear, and it was like everything stopped,” said Savage, who also recovered a fumble earlier that led to a Maryland field goal. “I couldn’t hear nothing. Then I just caught the ball and fell. Here we go.”
To Savage, embodying the reason Maryland survived to win surpassed his wildest expectations.
“It’s very emotional. Today, I finally completed my high school career,” he said. “I leave for [Norfolk State] next week, and to leave like this, it’s just amazing.”
Maryland crafted a clock-draining, 15-play drive, broken up by a brief, four-play Pennsylvania possession, before getting the ball back and setting the ball before McGeehan.
But as much as the kick meant to him, it couldn’t stack up for long to what the entire week, from working with his “buddy” to spending time with a host family, has done for McGeehan.
“I’m never going to forget this,” he said. “[I’ve learned] to be humble and count your blessings.”
61st Big 33 Football Classic
June 16, 2018
At Landis Field at Speed Ebersole Stadium, Harrisburg
MARYLAND 3-3-0-3 -- 9
PENN 3-3-0-0 – 6
PA-FG Vlad Hilling 20, 6:11
MD-FG Cooper McGeehen 42, 1:34
MD-FG McGeehan 33, 7:21
PA-FG Hilling 56, 1:28
MD-FG McGeehan 39, :05
Team stats M PA
First downs 12 7
Rushes-Yds 30-88 18-13
Passing 124 117
Comp-Att-Int 10-24-0 7-15-2
Punts-Avg 4-32.5 4-32.6
Fumbles-lost 2-1 1-1
Penalties-Yds 8-52 8-71
Maryland, Tyler Holley 2-37, Kendall Bonner 7-24, Julius Chestnut 8-22, Ugo Obasi 2-6, Matt Betterelli 2-4, Alfonzo Graham 5-4, Antwan Squire 3-(-3), Jamari Jones 1-(-6); Pennsylvania, Rahsul Faison 8-22, Luke Emge 2-1, Marquez McCray 4-(-1), Team 1-(-2), Carlinos Acie 3-(-7).
PASSING: Maryland, Kendall Bonner 7-16-0—113, Tyler Holley 3-8-0—11; Pennsylvania, Luke Emge 4-8-2—52, Jahan Dotson 1-1-0—46, Marquez McCray 3-7-0—19.
RECEIVING: Maryland, Matt McDonald 2-50m Ugo Obasi 4-40, Jamari Jones 2-23, Donta Anthony 1-7, Alfonzo Graham 1-4; Pennsylvania, Jose Barbon 1-46, Shaquon Anderson-Butts 2-42, Carlinos Acie 1-15, Naszhir Taylor 1-11, Jahan Dotson 2-3.