With 21 freshmen and sophomores on his roster, Gilman coach Biff Poggi expected some growing pains and the Greyhounds sure felt them early in last night's season-opener against Good Counsel.
The Falcons took a 14-0 lead in a little over three minutes and while the youth continued to show at times, the Greyhounds settled down to make critical plays late and come away with their first win over Good Counsel in three years, 20-14, in the season opener for both teams at the ESPN High School Football Kickoff Classic at Towson University's Johnny Unitas Stadium.
Linebacker Dorian Maddox turned the game with an interception that set up the Greyhounds on Good Counsel's 37-yard line with 5:50 left in the game. They needed just four plays to get to the end zone as back-up quarterback Kasim Hill hit John Fitzgerald with a 17-yard touchdown pass with 4:46 to go.
Hill came into the game in place of starting quarterback Kai Locksley, who had lost his shoe. Locksley returned for the conversion for Gilman's first lead of the game, 20-14.
Gilman's defense did the rest, stalling Good Counsel's final four downs after a 23-yard pass from Bryan Strittmatter to Myles Robinson put the Falcons on the Gilman 10-yard line with 1:06 to go. On fourth-and-goal from the 6, Perry Stefanelli was stopped short of the end zone by safety Alonzo Mayo to seal the win.
"Big stop," senior All-Metro defensive end Melvin Keihn said. "We've got new kids coming up, so as a leader you've got to be able to keep the kids strong. When they had that big play all I could tell them to do is tell them to calm down, we're going to stop them and that's exactly what we did.
Poggi said he's rarely had a team trailing by 14 in the first four minutes.
"I was getting the hold on to our hats speech ready, so their heads weren't fried after three and a half minutes of football," Poggi said. "I thought it could get ugly, but man, did they come back. I thought our kids really hung in there tough, showed a lot of character, a lot of grit, a lot of spirit. This is the youngest team I've ever had and they played like it but they got better every minute."
The Greyhounds shut out the Falcons, the preseason No. 1 in the Maryland State High School Football Media Poll, for the final 44:41. Gilman was ranked No. 3 behind DeMatha.
The game, also part of the Under Armour Brothers In Arms Classic, featured a showdown between the teams ranked No. 1 (Good Counsel) and No. 2 (Gilman) in the state the last two seasons — positions decided on the field. The Falcons won the last two meetings by a total of six points, including 20-19 in overtime a year ago.
The Falcons, ranked No. 19 in USA Today's Super 25, were also a young team and showed some growing pains of their own, but they built early momentum with the first play of the game when C.J. Carroll returned a punt 86 yards for the Falcons and less than a minute into the game Strittmatter, a first-year quarterback, hit Eric Grimm with a 20-yard touchdown pass to take a 7-0 lead.
The Greyhounds made it only to midfield on their first drive, but they tried a fake punt on fourth and six. Troy Vincent Jr. only managed to gain two yards, turning the ball over on downs.
On the Falcons' next play, Leo Ekwoge broke through a huge hole in the line for a 54-yard touchdown run and a 14 -0 lead just over three minutes into the game.
With a no-huddle offense, the Greyhounds then started moving the ball on the ground with a 10-play drive culminating in Locksley's 4-yard touchdown run with 5:29 to go in the first half. The Falcons blocked the extra point so the Greyhounds were only within 14-6.
Keihn came up with a big play for the Greyhounds, sacking Strittmatter as he looked for the end zone on fourth-and-17 from the 32-yard line. Gilman, however, went three-and-out but then forced the Falcons to do the same.
Jelani Roberts returned the punt 59 yards for a Gilman touchdown to pull within 14-12 with 8:58 to go before halftime. The Greyhounds tried for the conversion with Alonzo Mayo taking the handoff from Locksley and throwing to the quarterback, who was stopped just outside the end zone. Locksley completed 9 of 14 passes for 123 yards. He also ran 15 times for 106 yards and one touchdown.
Friday night's game was just the beginning of a tough three-week opening stretch for the Greyhounds. In the Sept. 1 continuation of the Under Armour Brothers In Arms Classic at Byrd Stadium, they play Manatee, a 2012 Florida state finalist. On Sept. 8, they travel to New Jersey to meet Paramus Catholic, the No. 4 team in USA Today's Super 25, at Rutgers.
"We're trying not to get crazy about the schedule, because the schedule is really hard," Poggi said. "What we're trying to do is use that to forge us into a more experienced, tougher group when we get to the league, because that's ultimately what we care about. We want to win them all, but we've got to be ready when we get to the league. We can get a lot better in five weeks."
GC 14 0 0 0 -- 14
G 6 6 0 8 -- 20
GC—Grimm 20 pass from Strittmatter (Strittmatter kick)
GC—Ekwoge 54 run (Strittmatter kick)
G—Locksley 4 run (kick blocked)
G—Roberts 59 punt ret. (pass failed)
G—Fitzgerald pass from Hill (Locksley run)
Dorian Maddox was misidentified in an earlier version of this article. The Baltimore Sun regrets the error.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun