For nearly a half yesterday, the Aberdeen football team was experiencing its own worst nightmare.
The Eagles couldn't stop Edgewood's running game and their vaunted offense was struggling to get first downs - both factors in a 20-point second-quarter deficit.
But the Eagles regrouped and, aided by three huge fourth-down passes and Carl Stokes' 7-yard touchdown run with 7:33 to play, No. 10 Aberdeen defeated Harford County rival Edgewood, 23-20, in the Class 2A East semifinals last night at Eagles Stadium.
The victory was the first playoff win in school history for Aberdeen (9-1), the region's top seed and the Harford County co-champs.
It also was eerily reminiscent of the first matchup between the two teams in early October, which the Eagles won, 26-22.
The Rams saw their season end at 6-4, while the Eagles move on to the region finals, where they will play host to Stephen Decatur, 60-22 victors over J.M. Bennett last night, next Friday.
"We were shell-shocked," said Aberdeen senior quarterback Erin Henderson on his team's 20-0 deficit late in the second quarter. "I was like, 'What's going on?' This was not the team I played with all season long. But I was being timid and I put it on my shoulders. We all just had to step up or we were going home."
Relying on a suffocating defense that sacked Henderson four times - three times by Eric Lindblad - and intercepted him once, Edgewood took the 20-0 lead on three touchdown runs, two by senior Corey Trice (16 carries for 99 yards) and a 19-yarder by senior Marlon Lee.
The Rams threatened to go up even more, but Rams quarterback J.J. Jackson fumbled a snap at the Eagles' 28 and Willis Boykin recovered.
Henderson, bound for the University of Maryland, then hit Devron Galloway for a 28-yard score with 1:12 before halftime.
"I can't say how big that touchdown was," said Eagles coach Joe Harbert. "We told them at halftime by no means is this game over. We knew we can score."
They did with just 32 seconds left in the third, as Henderson (7-for-15 for 93 yards and two touchdowns) hit Ryan McVey for a 10-yard strike on fourth-and-goal.
Henderson twice kept that drive alive with fourth-down passes.
"I'm very impressed with Erin Henderson," said Rams coach Fred Myers. "He had two fourth-down calls that he needed and he made plays on both."
The Eagles cut it to 20-14 when Galloway faked putting down the hold on the extra-point attempt, and hit Stokes for the two-point conversion.
Henderson, a 6-foot-4, 225-pounder who also plays linebacker, then picked off Jackson on the Rams' next possession, and returned it to the Rams' 34.
After an 8-yard conversion pass to Galloway on fourth down - which required a measurement with Aberdeen making it by the nose of the football - Stokes took a pitch from Henderson and scored from 7 yards out. Cody Martin added the extra point for a 21-20 Eagles lead.
After forcing a punt on Edgewood's next possession, the Eagles drove down to the Rams' 6 before being stopped on fourth-and-goal. But needing to go 94 yards in just 53 seconds, Jackson got sacked by Boykin for the safety.