It's always darkest before the dawn, the saying goes.
And that's how it seemed for McDonogh before last night's come-from-behind 11-10 overtime Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference semifinal victory over last year's champ Gilman (11-5) before about 3,000 loud fans at Johns Hopkins' Homewood Field.
The Eagles (19-2) next face third-seed Loyola (14-6), ranked No. 5 in The Sun and a 12-5 winner over No. 2 seed St. Mary's (10-5) in last night's earlier semifinal, next Friday night here in the title game.
McDonogh's Bobby Benson finished with four goals and three assists, including three straight goals to give the Eagles a 10-8 lead midway through the fourth period, and the game-winning assist on Matt Primm's fourth goal of the night 48 seconds into the four-minute overtime session.
The Eagles lost in overtime of last season's semifinal to eventual runner-up St. Paul's, and were 35-5 in their previous 40 games -- all five losses coming in overtime.
"I was joking with someone before the end that we might end up 0-6 in overtime," Benson said. "But I guess the experience of being in those games finally paid off."
Gilman All-Metro attackman Ryan Boyle, in his first game back after missing two as the result of surgery to remove a hernia, scored an extra-man goal and had the Greyhounds within 10-9 with 6: 02 to play. He then assisted on Kevin Boland's third goal of the night, which tied the game for the fourth time at 10-10 with 2: 32 to play.
But McDonogh keeper Rob Scherr (12 saves) stopped four shots in the fourth period, including one at the end of regulation, and Ryan Floyd had four assists as the Eagles reached their first title game in the program's history.
Gilman's Andrew Lucas, who scored five goals in a first-round win over Boys' Latin but was shut out in last Friday's 17-5 loss to McDonogh, finished with three goals and two assists.
And Gilman All-Metro defender Damien Davis had six strips off checks and three running clears despite playing while on antibiotics for a flu-like illness which had him lying on his back earlier that day.
Andrew Faraone and Jesse Kohler each had a goal and an assist for Gilman, which led 4-1 with 1: 07 left in the first period. But McDonogh scored six of the next seven goals for a 7-5 halftime lead, with all seven of the goals being assisted. The Eagles would not trail again.
"The seniors on this team have experienced an 0-10 season as freshmen, including an overtime loss to Mount St. Joe that year," said Primm. "But from Bryan McGregor winning that final faceoff, and Evan Weinberg getting it over, the seniors on this team wanted to rise to the challenge of getting to next Friday night. Gilman did everything possible not to let that happen."
Jay Pfiefer recorded seven saves in the Gilman goal.
No. 5 Loyola 12, St. Mary's 5: Loyola blitzed the Saints with seven straight goals in the second quarter at Johns Hopkins' Homewood Field.
The Dons advanced to the conference finals for the first time since 1996 and will play Gilman at 8 p.m. next Friday at Homewood Field.
The Dons (14-6) ran the Saints' defense dizzy in the second period. After Brian Miller scored off a pass from T.J. Morton to tie the game at 3-3, Loyola reeled off five goals in the last 5: 25 and led 8-3 at intermission.