High school football can bond a community, and there was no doubt that the crowd of just under 1,000 at Annapolis High for the Panthers' opener last night was together after a week of turmoil at the school.
"I didn't notice up in the stands too much, but we [the school community] really never got apart," said Annapolis coach Brian Brown, whose team was defeated, 41-7, by Gwynn Park of Prince George's County, the defending Class 3A state champion. "We never got apart."
After the post-game handshakes, the teams huddled in the middle of the field for a prayer.
That act of togetherness came after a week in which there were altercations at the school among students from different communities in the Annapolis area, resulting in multiple arrests the past few days.
More than a dozen students were involved in the incidents, and they were banned from last night's game and are expected to be disciplined by the school system.
There were TV cameras all around Al Laramore Field and TV satellite trucks in the parking lots, but the game was played without incident.
Don Lilley, the Annapolis principal, beefed up security and received community help to ensure safety for students and fans. There were police and canines on the grounds as a precaution.
The game, meanwhile, was like a repeat of last year's encounter.
On their way to their state title and a 14-0 record last season, the Yellow Jackets opened at home with a 39-6 rout of Annapolis.
"You've got to play the best, and anytime you play the best, you get a lot out of it," Brown said. "My kids gave every ounce they had tonight."
Gwynn Park, ranked No. 11 by The Washington Post, scored on the opening kickoff as Nygee Carmichael raced 91 yards for a touchdown.
Annapolis answered with an 11-play, 67-yard drive capped by a halfback-option pass from Deonte Ward to Traval Adams from 37 yards. John Greenfield's extra-point kick tied the score at 7.
Things slowly deteriorated for the Panthers, though, as Gwynn Park scored two more times to build a 20-7 halftime lead.
Quarterback Anthony Green threw a touchdown pass and running back Jerrel Coles, who rushed for more than 100 yards, scored on a 2-yard burst.
The Yellow Jackets added two scores in the third quarter to take command at 34-7. firstname.lastname@example.org