The Elgard Trophy, given to the winner of the oldest high school football rivalry in Howard County, brought out the best in No. 9 Howard and No. 14 Glenelg on Thursday night — especially in the last quarter.
The thrilling conclusion came on a 27-yard touchdown toss from senior quarterback Kevin Sheahin to Dylan Perez with 23 seconds remaining in the game to give the host Lions (5-0) a 20-15 victory.
Those heroics were preceded by plenty of other clutch plays, including Glenelg senior Brent Richardson's 5-yard touchdown run running behind Florida State-bound blue chip lineman David Robbins with just over a minute left in regulation.
That's when Glenelg coach Butch Schaffer's gamble to go for a two-point conversion paid big — if short-lived — dividends. Taking a direct snap from center as he had done several times in the game, Richardson sprinted to his left and then found junior Sam Hulett on a pass to the corner of the end zone for a 15-14 advantage and the inside track on the Gladiators' ninth win in the past 11 meetings with Howard.
It was not meant to be, though, because the Lions took just 33 seconds to drive 57 yards for the winning score.
On what looked to be a desperation heave because Perez was blanketed by a defender, Sheahin still lofted the pass toward the sophomore wideout.
When both players went up for the ball, it went up in the air and, ultimately, into Perez's arms.
"I don't even remember what happened, to tell you the truth," said Perez, a transfer from Mount Saint Joseph who finished the game with three touchdowns and more than 150 receiving yards. "All I know is the ball popped in the air, and I caught it."
Sheahin said he surveyed the defense as he was backpedaling and then took a chance.
"I had to look and see what the defense was giving," he said. "I went through my progressions."
Sheahin's first scoring pass to Perez also floated, but arrived on time for Perez to snatch the ball at its high point and sustain a hit that nearly sent him out of bounds.
Instead, the sophomore wideout kept his balance, pivoted and tightroped 76 yards down the sideline to give the Lions a 6-0 lead in the first quarter, a lead that stood until the final period.
The second time the duo connected, Sheahin rifled a pass over the middle that allowed Perez to stay in stride as he galloped untouched into end zone to put his team on top, 14-7, with eight minutes left.
And that came after senior quarterback Jack Hogan, aided by a long personal foul penalty on the Lions, masterfully directed a 99-yard scoring drive to put Glenelg on top, 7-6, after being shut out for three quarters. Junior running back Tre Davis knifed in on a 5-yard run to finish the 14-play sequence.
The home team's defense finally made a stop in the final seconds to thwart Glenelg, which prevailed in last year's Elgard Trophy battle, 35-20.
The Gladiators eventually won the county title and earned a spot on the Class 3A East Region playoffs.
A relieved Howard coach Bruce Strunk praised this year's team for its determination. He also praised his rival's courage.
"They just left a little too much time on the clock," he said. "Our guys just made outstanding plays."
G 0 0 0 15 15
H 6 0 0 14 20
Perez 76 pass from Sheahin (kick failed)
Davis 5 run (Wasson kick)
Perez 33 pass from Sheahin (Vale pass from Sheahin)
Richardson 5 run (Hulett pass from Richardson)
Perez 27 pass from Sheahin (pass failed)