When they were playing football in rec leagues growing up — Gross at Northwood then Owings Mills, and Jones at Overlea and Middle River — they knew each other in passing, because their fathers, Marvin Gross Sr. and Michael Jones, were friends.

The boys got to know each other the summer before their freshman year when, by coincidence, their families took the same cruise to Cancun.

"He seemed like a really cool guy and he liked to have fun," Jones said. "We hung out, went swimming. The cruise ship had a basketball court, so we played a lot of basketball, one-on-one and sometimes pickup games with us against other people."

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Gross said they had so much in common that Jones was like an instant brother. At Dunbar, they both moved up to the varsity together during their freshman year.

The competition that began on the ship's basketball court moved to the football field, as well as video games and anything else in which they can contend.

"We leave everything on the field as far as competing for sacks and everything like that," Gross said, "but it's like a sibling rivalry, so we compete at everything. Every time he comes over my house, we play 'NCAA' [football video game], and if I win one game, he wants to take me back for another one. One time, we were up til 1 o'clock in the morning. I don't want to say anything about who won, because he's just going to say he did."

The rivalry will take on an added dimension when they get to college where, for the first time, they will play on opposite sides. They've already come up with a way to preserve their friendship when the Maryland-West Virginia game approaches.

"We've already stated that during that week we won't be talking to each other," Jones said.


Class 1A state football championship: No. 6 Dunbar (12-1) vs. New Town (11-2)

When: Saturday, noon

TV: Ch. 54

Internet radio: SFMSports.net

Where: M&T Bank Stadium

Coaches: Lawrence Smith, Dunbar; Joe Holland, New Town

Last meeting: None

Outlook: In this David vs. Goliath matchup, first-time state finalist New Town takes on one of the state's most successful playoff programs. The Poets are two-time defending champions, have won six of the past eight Class 1A titles and have won more playoff games (43) than any program in state tournament history. After falling to No. 4 Calvert Hall, 30-6, in the season opener, the Poets have allowed just 23 points and shut out nine opponents. The Titans, however, have worn the underdog label all season and have used it to their advantage. Before this fall, they had a 1-5 playoff record. They faced a loud wake-up call when they lost to Owings Mills, 19-18, in the regular-season finale, but they rolled through the regional playoffs and then nipped last year's state finalist, previously undefeated Perryville, 28-27, on the road in last week's semifinal. The Titans rely heavily on a running game led by RB Derrick Kittrell (127 carries, 1,286 yards, 19 TDs) and FL Donte' Gross (83 carries, 863 yards, 10 TD), but they can also pass the ball with QB Shawn Magginson (52-for-88 for 1,064 yards, 13 TDs, 4 INTs). The Poets are led by RB Coleman Blackston (188 carries, 1,653 yards, 15 TDs), who ran for 269 yards on 27 carries and scored two touchdowns in the 40-8 semifinal win over Brunswick. QB William Crest (94-for-145 for 714 yards, 12 TDs, 5 INTs) provides a pass option for the Poets, who are scheduled to move up to Class 2A next fall. While the Poets have considerable advantages in size and depth, as well as state playoff experience, they are also prone to penalties and turnovers, which could give the Titans an opening.

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