Few outside of Glenelg believed the Gladiators stood a chance against Oakdale in the Class 2A state championship game Saturday night at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis.
The Bears’ senior quarterback Collin Schlee was too big and too fast and could throw a football nearly 70 yards. Senior running back Simeon Sabvute was too dynamic. Senior linebacker Maurio Goings was a wrecking ball on defense. All three — among others — have Division-I football games in their futures.
The Gladiators heard all of that this week, but for nearly two quarters on Saturday, they proved all those people wrong. They quickly knifed through Oakdale’s defense and capped an 80-yard opening drive with a touchdown, and their defense stood tall and forced the Bears backwards on the next. Everything was working early.
Although Oakdale scored midway through the first quarter, the extra point failed and the Gladiators remained ahead and hung around. They intercepted Schlee twice in the opening 24 minutes, something he had only done three times all year, and they held the lead longer than any team had against the Bears.
But once Schlee threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to Ethan Reifer with half a minute left in the first half, the lead and Glenelg’s dream of a perfect season and a state championship disappeared altogether.
Oakdale suddenly became the team everyone expected and scored 35 unanswered points to beat the Gladiators, 35-7, and win their first state championship and finish the season undefeated at 13-0.
Glenelg (13-1), which finally broke through and won its first state semifinal game in seven tries last week against New Town, will have to wait another year to win its first state title. It was held to a season-low in points scored and allowed a season-high in the defeat.
“Our kids played their hearts out,” Gladiators coach Butch Schaffer said. “... They made plays when they had to make a play, and we didn’t.”
Schlee, a verbal commit to Kent State, started the night 0-for-5 passing but finished with four touchdowns — two rushing, two passing — and completed 10-of-22 throws for 210 yards, and he also led the team in rushing with 89 yards on four carries.
Glenelg senior running back and Yale commit Wande Owens did it all, just as he had done all season. He had an interception on defense and led the way offensively with 103 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries, but 76 of them came in the first quarter. He finishes his career with the second-most rushing yards in state history with 6,354 and 2,680 yards and 40 rushing touchdowns on the season — a Howard County single-season record. He also scored at least one rushing touchdown in every game this fall.
“It was very emotional,” Owens said of watching the final minutes tick away. “Sitting on the sideline and realizing that this is my last high school football game, the last time I put on the ‘G.’ We had a great year, but we came up short of our goal.”
Glenelg got moving early thanks to the legs of senior quarterback Tyler Reiff. He broke loose for a 60-yard run on the second play from scrimmage, and Owens found the end zone two plays later on a 10-yard run to give the Gladiators an early 7-0 lead.
“I thought we started really, really well and we knew we had to,” Schaffer said. “I thought the first couple of drives we did a good job moving the football.”
Their defense stood tall on the ensuing drive, but an interception thrown by Reiff gave Oakdale life. Like Reiff, Schlee gave the Bears what they needed with his legs, as he outran the Glenelg defense for a 66-yard score to cut the deficit to 7-6.
The Gladiators put together a classic Glenelg drive — draining the clock and pounding the ball — late in the first quarter and into the second. It went 55 yards on 13 plays that took more than seven minutes, but four penalties for 35 yards proved costly and the drive stalled at the Oakdale 40 yard line.
“Penalties hurt us a little bit, but that’s the name of the game sometimes,” Schaffer said. “... I thought we did a great job executing, but I thought Oakdale did a great job adjusting, so you’ve got to give them credit for that.”
After the Gladiators gained 159 yards of offense in the first quarter, they struggled in the second despite their defense intercepting Schlee on back-to-back drives. Camden Renehan had the first early in the quarter only to see Glenelg go three-and-out, and then Owens intercepted a pass in the end zone on the next drive one play after a penalty nullified an Oakdale touchdown. Again, the Gladiators couldn’t take advantage and went three-and-out.
They couldn’t slow the Bears down for a third time in a row, however. Schlee found his groove and commanded a 35-yard scoring drive that ended with a 14-yard touchdown pass to Reifer to give Oakdale its first lead, 13-7, with only 30 seconds left in the half.
“We kind of hung around in there for a quarter and a half and kind of waited to see what they wanted to do,” Oakdale coach Kurt Stein said. “They gave us some new stuff and things like that, but after we settled in, I felt like slowly but surely over the next two and a half quarters our guys started to seize control of the game.”
The Bears outgained Glenelg 174-170 in yards in the first half, but the final 28 minutes were a different story. They needed just four plays to go 76 yards on the first drive of the third quarter, which ended with a 2-yard touchdown run by Goings. A two-point conversion made it 21-7.
Schaffer called the score a “back breaker.”
“When momentum really switches in and it really takes us out of our game plan when we get down two scores,” he said.
Oakdale scored again two drives later, as Schlee scrambled and found Blake Baxter for a 14-yard touchdown to extend the lead to 28-7 in the third quarter, and then Schlee put the game out of reach with an 18-yard scoring run early in the fourth.
Oakdale finished the night with 402 yards on offense. Glenelg had 240 despite winning the time of possession battle by more than seven minutes.
“I’m not going to lie, I was crying my eyes out,” said Gladiators senior linebacker Sam Alsheimer. “I think I hugged everyone on the team. I’ve never been more emotionally attached to one team. I love this team and I’m proud of every single one of them.”
Despite the loss, this year’s Glenelg team will be remembered as the best in school history. It set a school record with 13 wins and did what no other team had done: win a state semifinal game and play for a title on the big stage. They were the first Howard County team to play for a state championship since Howard in 2015 and outscored opponents 521-101 on the season.
“My guys know how I feel about them. I wouldn’t trade them for the world,” Schaffer said while fighting back tears. “That’s how it is. I’m proud of them.”
Oakdale (13-0) — 35, Glenelg (13-1) — 7
O — 6 7 15 7 — 35
G — 7 0 0 0 — 7
G: Wande Owens 10-yard run, Chris Retzbach kick [0-7]
O: Collin Schlee 66-yard run, kick failed [6-7]
O: Collin Schlee 19-yard pass to Ethan Reifer, Justin Ritter kick [13-6]
O: Maurio Goings 2-yard run, Schlee pass to Reifer conversion [21-7]
O: Schlee 14-yard pass to Blake Baxter, Ritter kick [28-7]
O: Schlee 18-yard run, Ritter kick [35-7]