Reginald Lewis running back Donnie Neal made Friday's 20-12 victory over Northwestern a memorable one.
Not only did the senior score all three touchdowns and run for 189 yards on 20 carries, but he led the host Falcons to their first Baltimore City championship — the Division II title — and their first win over Northwestern since 2004.
"It was a great day, a game to remember, something I can tell my kids about," Neal said. "Our coaches told us we could do it, and this time it was different."
A year ago, the Falcons lost the season finale to Northwestern, and that feeling stuck with them. Friday's win set off an exuberant celebration with coach Donte' Foster jumping around with the players before receiving a Gatorade shower.
"It's a huge deal," said Falcons lineman Matthew Gross, who recovered two fumbles. "I was here last season and we lost 22-6 and it hurt. It kind of left a bad taste in our mouth to make us want to come back out here starting in January and get better. The Wildcats, they came out here and played good today. It was about who wanted it more, and I feel like we worked just a little bit harder than them."
Neal, who has rushed for 100 or more yards in 19 straight games, struggled with leg cramps after scoring his second touchdown on a 13-yard run with 3:39 left in the third quarter to give the Falcons (9-1, 9-0 division) a 14-6 lead. He didn't play on the next drive spanning the third and fourth quarters, but he returned to seal the victory with a 36-yard touchdown run with 1:50 to go.
"We had a pulling guard, Darius Wees, and I followed behind him. He took out the linebacker and I cut it outside. Nobody was there," said Neal, who high-stepped it into the end zone.
Neal also credited the rest of the offensive line — Gross, Chris Bullock, Demonte Noble and Derrick Johnson Jr. — for opening big holes all afternoon. Earlier this year, when Neal ran for a school-record six touchdowns in a game, he treated them to pizza.
"He runs the ball hard," Northwestern coach Eric Woodson said of the 5-foot-8, 170-pound Neal. "He doesn't go down on first contact. He keeps his feet moving. He's very low to the ground. ... We were going at him, going at him, trying to wrap him up, and he was just running through us."
While the Wildcats (7-3, 7-2) struggled with turnovers and penalties, they were the beneficiaries of the game's first turnover. Senior cornerback Lamont Marable recovered it to set up a 55-yard drive that ended when Marable, also a running back, snatched up a teammate's fumble and ran 30 yards to the end zone for a 6-0 lead.
Marable also scored the Wildcats' second touchdown just 10 seconds after Neal gave Lewis its 14-6 lead. He returned the ensuing kickoff 80 yards to pull within 14-12.
"My hat goes off to Reginald Lewis," Woodson said. "It came down to the last game again, and they really deserved it. We battled and gave it everything we had. I had one player on the line of scrimmage returning from last year, so we went through some growing pains and last week [a 12-6 loss to W.E.B. Du Bois] was a tough game for us, but we battled back and my hat goes off to my guys, too."
NW 6 0 6 0 — 12
RL 0 6 8 6 — 20
NW—Marable 30 fumb. rec. (pass failed)
RL—Neal 7 run (run failed)
RL—Neal 13 run (Queen run)
NW—Marable 80 kickoff ret. (run failed)
RL—Neal 36 run (run failed)Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun