Each time top-ranked McDonogh's elite playmakers, Julian Griggs and Mike Gamble, touched the ball in Monday's showdown with No. 2 Gilman, they had to stare down three or four defenders scrambling to close them down.
The Greyhounds gave the talented Eagles little space to develop their explosive attack and kept the game scoreless for 60 minutes. Griggs then collected a loose ball, dribbled through three defenders and found Kyle DeVinney, who provided the 1-0 victory with a close-range goal. The Eagles have shown they are the class of the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference by winning all eight of their league games this season.
"Every team in this league is very competitive; they pressure really hard and don't give you much space," Griggs said. "I made good use of the ball the one time I got it. I beat a couple of guys and crossed it and got the goal we needed to win."
The highly anticipated matchup turned into a physical game with two yellow cards and several warnings to both benches. The Eagles (14-1 overall) took control early by using quick touches to work around Gilman's swarming defense. The Greyhounds (9-1-3, 5-1-2) were effective in launching several counterattacks with long balls over McDonogh's midfield.
"I said at the beginning of the year, if there was one team that could give us fits defensively, it's Gilman," McDonogh coach Steve Nichols said. "They have four or five kids who are very good at defending. The key for us was Matt Shinsky in the back. He kept things in control."
The Eagles finally got a break in the 60th minute when Griggs picked up a loose ball just outside the penalty area, dribbled outside and cut back toward the goal to drill a pass to the 6-foot-1 DeVinney, who got past his defender to knock in the ball from a few yards out.
"That's my position," DeVinney said. "I'm the big guy with not a lot of foot skills, so I just find my place inside the box."
Gilman then picked up the tempo and committed more players to attack. This helped the Greyhounds win back some of the momentum in the final 15 minutes. Gilman appeared to have tied the score with 5:51 left when a loose ball found its way into the net after a scrum inside the penalty area, but the referee said McDonogh goalie Matt Sanchez was fouled on the play.
"Anytime you go against a team as dangerous as them, especially with Griggs and Gamble, they make you pay [for] any mistake that you make," Gilman coach Jon Seal said. "We wanted to minimize mistakes in the defensive third and keep the ball. We didn't do a good job of keeping the ball to relieve the pressure. But our kids fought hard."
Goals: M--DeVinney. Assists: M--Griggs. Saves: G--Harris 8; M--Sanchez 6. Half: 0-0