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Five things you learn when you're asked to play at halftime of a Ravens preseason game

1. The grown-ups have to be in on the surprise.

When cameras showed up for the Sykesville Raiders and Arbutus Golden Eagles' Carroll County Youth Football and Cheer League game Saturday afteroon, the kids didn't know what what was going on. They didn't know what their parents and coaches did: that soon, they'd be whisked away from their Arbutus field and to downtown Baltimore. They were told that all the filming was for some Ravens-related community event, told not to worry, that it might be used later.

"They really didn't give it a second thought," said Dave Ferguson, president of the Sykesville Raiders and co-coach with Vince Damico of the under-10 team being paid so much attention. "And then when we lined up for lineups, that's when they sprung the big news on us and told us that we were going to be playing."

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At halftime. Of an NFL preseason game.

2. News like that can defy comprehension for a 10-year-old.

Even with Jarrett Johnson and four Ravens cheerleaders and mascots Poe, Rise and Conquer in attendance, even with a random bus idling near the field, some kids didn't fully grasp that they would, in fact, be playing in the same stadium where the Ravens were to play the Buffalo Bills.

"Some of them were kind of shocked," Ferguson said. "They didn't quite understand what was going on. But as soon as their teammates were like, 'We're going to Ravens stadium! We're going to Ravens stadium!' they all got excited and were high-fiving each other."

3. Terrell Suggs looms large.

After the teams were taken to M&T Bank Stadium, trading chants of "Go, Raiders!" and "Go, Golden Eagles" along the ride, they disembarked, dropped off their equipment and were led to the field. Players hung out on the sideline pregame and called out every Raven they knew. The sheer number they could identify surprised Ferguson.

Before the national anthem, they moved from the Bills' sideline to the Ravens'. They shook hands and delivered high-fives with players they'd seen only on TV. The lucky few who got to see Terrell Suggs were awestruck.

"To see him in person, suited up, and just the sheer size of him, I think that's what really brought it home to a lot of them," Ferguson said. "And that's when they kind of got quiet as they're looking up at this towering, imposing figure above them."

4. Halftime ‘games’ are more like halftime drives.

Arbutus and Sykesville were allowed to run nine plays — total. When the teams' coaches huddled to decide how to apportion their allotted time, they agreed to four plays for each side, with the last to be decided later.

The Golden Eagles got the ball first. But when Arbutus couldn't score, Sykesville took over.

The Raiders ran a sweep right. The next play was a misdirection — a fullback dive. On their third play, another sweep, Sykesville scored from 10 yards out. The crowd roared. Ferguson's not sure how much his team noticed.

"They were so engrossed in the game, I don't think any of them were even looking up to see how many people were actually watching them play or seeing themselves up on the jumbotron," he said. "All that came later."

5. You’ve still got to get ready for the real game ahead.

After the nine-play scrimmage, the teams retreated to the stands, where they hung out with friends and family; each team had been gifted 50-plus tickets for the game, Ferguson said.

Yet for as much as they had to talk about Saturday night, their Sunday afternoon was just as thrilling. That was when the teams met for their actual season opener.

"They were up, they were ready to go, ready to play football that day," Ferguson said.

The game was tied at the end of regulation, so the Raiders and Golden Eagles headed to overtime. Sykesville took over at Arbutus' 10-yard line, as league rules dictate, and scored. The Raiders reached the end zone again for a successful extra point.

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The Golden Eagles took over, and they scored, too. But Sykesville's defense stiffened when it needed to, and the point-after conversion failed. The Raiders won, 26-25.

It was "one of the best games we've had," Ferguson said. If only more people had been paying attention.

"There were parents and grandparents and aunts and uncle who came to watch the game," Ferguson said, chuckling, "and they were passing around cellphones, sharing pictures of the night before."

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