The Mervo football team made its intentions clear to anyone who would listen: This one was for Elijah.
No. 9 Mervo (11-1) used a stifling defense to shut out No. 6 Dundalk (12-1) for the final three quarters and win the Class 4A/3A state championship, 22-13, at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis on Thursday night.
Quarterback Derek Dunn led Mervo with 64 rushing yards on eight carries and went 6-for-17 for 169 yards through the air.
“God is great,” said Mustangs receiver Deandre Ferguson, who finished with two catches for 56 yards and a touchdown. “We beat COVID and all kinds of other adversity to do this. We did this, and we did it for our brother.”
Mervo coach Patrick Nixon said he was worried that all of the adversity might overwhelm the Mustangs.
“I was worried that our [emotional] tank was tapped out, and that we’d run out of gas,” Nixon said. “Emotionally, we did what we had to do. We filled that tank here tonight.”
“It’s amazing,” Elijah’s father, James Gorham, said before the game. “In 2019 they missed a chance to go to the championships — I think Dunbar knocked them out. In 2020, the pandemic came along. So in 2021, it’s just great. I just wish Elijah was there.”
Dundalk took advantage of a Mervo mistake to take an early lead. After a Dundalk punt, the Mustangs took over at their own 2 yard-line. A penalty moved the ball back to the 1, and an errant snap caused a fumble that was recovered by Dundalk’s Abdullah Sargeant in the end zone for a 7-0 lead after the extra point with 8:31 left in the first quarter.
Dundalk added to its lead on the next series. After taking over at their own 46, the Owls used a seven-play drive to expand the lead to 13-0 with 3:57 left in the quarter. The biggest play was a 20-yard pass from quarterback Calvin Stokes to Marcus Nicholson on fourth-and-5 to move the ball to the Mervo 1. Stokes scored on the next play.
Mervo responded toward the end of the half. With 3:18 left, the Mustangs used a four-play, 37-yard drive to cut into the lead. Bobby Johnson caught a 15-yard pass from Dunn, and Dunn rushed for another 15 yards to set the Mustangs up on the Dundalk 7. Two plays later, Kylish Hicks scored from the 1-yard line to cut the deficit to 13-7 with 1:10 left in the half.
On fourth down on the ensuing Dundalk possession, the Mustangs’ Jaden Eldridge did it all himself, blocking a Dundalk punt and falling on it in the end zone with 37 seconds left in the half. After a Johnson extra point, Mervo led 14-13.
The Owls held a 178-131 yardage advantage at the half.
Mervo scored to extend its lead on its second possession of the second half. Taking over at the Mustangs’ 20, Dunn completed a 46-yard pass to Vaughn Devaugh and then a 32-yard touchdown pass to Deandre Ferguson. After a 2-point conversion pass from Dunn to Tyshawn Cox, the Mustangs led 22-13 with 4:42 left in the third quarter.
Dundalk had several late opportunities to cut the margin, but the Owls were turned away again and again by the Mervo defense. With 2:34 left in the game and Dundalk on the Mervo 24, Stokes was intercepted in the end zone by Hicks to effectively end the game.
“My heart goes out to these kids,” Dundalk coach Matt Banta said. “This is not what we wanted, but I’m very proud that we got here. They put nine guys in the box, and it was hard for us to run the ball. That forced us to throw, and eventually time ran out on us.”
Class 4A/3A state championship
(at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium)
Mervo 22, Dundalk 13
M – 0-14-8-0
D – 13-0-0-0
D – Sargeant fumble recovery in end zone (Keener kick)
D – Stokes 1 run (kick failed)
M – Hicks 1 run (Johnson kick)
M – Eldridge blocked punt in end zone (Johnson kick)
M – Ferguson 32 pass from Dunn (Cox pass from Dunn)