RIVERDALE -- Few observers statewide gave Gilman a prayer against national power DeMatha in the first place.
Then there was a downpour, with the mud rising to the players' ankles, neutralizing the Greyhounds' speed. Then Gilman's starting quarterback left the game, permanently.
But Gilman overcame the bigger team and treacherous conditions and took advantage of six DeMatha turnovers in a 14-0, smash-mouth football win at Parkdale High, DeMatha's home field.
Gilman's winning streak, during which it has outscored opponents, 758-124 (34.5-5.6), rose to 22 games with its 11th shutout in that span.
DeMatha's defeat was believed to be its first shutout loss since November 1980 -- against Archbishop Carroll by a touchdown -- its first home loss since St. John's in October 1994, and its first regular-season setback since Good Counsel, 28-26, in October 1996.
The Stags entered the game ranked No. 1 in the state (Gilman was No. 3) and No. 24 nationally. They had a 31-0-1 regular-season record and an 18-3 slate against Baltimore-area teams. City, with a 20-12 win in 1966, was the previous Baltimore team to beat the Stags.
"Our [saying] is, 'Eighty men together, in a community, loving each other, can't be beat,'" said coach Biff Poggi (27-3 in four seasons).
"We had rookies all over the place -- making blocks, tackles, whatever we asked."
The Greyhounds' defense was led by Dan Zito and Greg Lotz, each of whom had two sacks and a fumble recovery. John Avirett contributed a sack, a fumble recovery and a pass breakup, Josh Hoffman and Tap Kolkin each had sacks, and Mike Rodgers and Aaron Nocar came up with fumble recoveries.
"There was a lot of pressure on us," said linebacker Starrett Esworthy, last year's All-Metro Defensive Player of The Year. "But every player, from the youngest to the oldest, we pushed ourselves and made some great plays, defensively."
The most electrifying was by junior Napoleon Sykes, whose 76-yard interception return of a swing pass by Ryan Mitch (4-for-14, 49 yards) gave the Greyhounds a 6-0 lead with 4:50 left in the first half.
"When they hiked the ball, he [quarterback Mitch] looked right at No. 1 [Domonique Stewart]. I read it the whole way," Sykes said. "I just ran. When I looked over my shoulder, [Stewart] was just standing there. Nobody could touch me."
Gilman also got second-half heroics from reserve quarterback Tilghman Morton, who replaced starter Ambrose Wooden (leg cramps) during a drive and promptly threw a 15-yard scoring pass to sophomore Anthony Triplin with 8:31 left in the third period.
Morton's second extra-point kick went for the margin.
Gilman moved the ball from the outset. Malcolm Ruff (113 yards, 23 carries) rushed five times for 30 yards in a game-opening drive that covered 56 yards in 10 plays before the Greyhounds fumbled away the ball at DeMatha's 11.
Later, a diving, 35-yard reception by Stewart had DeMatha at Gilman's 5-yard line. But after a 5-yard penalty, an incomplete pass and a sack by Lotz and Zito, DeMatha missed a 28-yard field goal with the score 0-0. DeMatha regained possession moments later, but fumbled to Gilman's Rodgers at the 3.
"We got down to the 2-yard line and didn't get in," said 19th-year Stags coach Bill McGregor (164-27-3 career). "We had a chance for a touchdown and a field goal early and came out with nothing."
DeMatha running back Anthony Riley, coming off a 2,064-yard, 25-touchdown season, gained 63 yards on 12 carries, 54 of which came in the first half.
He nearly broke one on DeMatha's first drive of the game, but he was dragged down after 25 yards by Triplin. Three plays later, DeMatha punted from Gilman's 44.
"My biggest fear was could we turn it on in the second half, and we did that," Zito said. "Then our offense started running the ball down their throats. We wanted it more in the end."
The Sun's fall 2000 high school preview section will run Tuesday. It will include an area-wide look at football, boys and girls soccer, field hockey, volleyball, cross country and golf.