Saturday afternoon, McDonogh and Gilman did not play their rivalry football game for a berth in the playoffs or for the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference championship as they often have in recent years.
Instead, they played for a big finish to their challenging seasons and bragging rights in a 103-year-old tradition.
After a 0-0 first half, visiting McDonogh changed its rushing strategy, blocked better and took off for a 33-8 victory.
Within about six minutes early in the third quarter, freshman quarterback Preston Howard scored on a 3-yard run, junior Harrison Beattie kicked a 37-yard field goal and junior running back Giovanni Procaccini broke a 76-yard touchdown run.
The Eagles’ victory keeps the Price Trophy traveling. The teams have traded victories and possession of the trophy for five years, although the Greyhounds lead the series 61-37-5.
The victory is the first win over an A Conference opponent this fall for the Eagles, who finish 3-6 overall. The Greyhounds drop to 1-9 with no A Conference victories.
“This season, for us, has been rough, That’s why this game meant so much more to us this year,” Procaccini said. “We really wanted to prove to everyone we’re a good team.”
One A Conference coach said the Eagles were the best team with a losing record he had ever played. They opened the season with a win over Archbishop Wood (Pa.), a team that defeated No. 5 Archbishop Spalding later in the season.
For much of the season, however, the Eagles started slowly and couldn’t get all the way back.
“This is how it was every other game,” McDonogh senior running back Jabriel Johnson said. “We start off slow and end up coming back in the second half or even third quarter. I remember one game (against No. 2 Mount Saint Joseph) we were down by 34-17 and came back and it was 34-30. This was one of those games that we started off slow, talked about it in the locker room and ended up getting a W.”
Johnson, the Eagles workhorse running back, carried the ball 23 times for 150 yards. All but 25 of those yards came in the second half as did his two touchdown runs.
Early on, the Eagles run game struggled to get much past the line of scrimmage. There were no gaps to run inside against a Gilman scheme that first-year coach Hakeem Sule said baffled his young offensive line.
“What they did in the first half was play a scheme that we really haven’t seen much,” Sule said. “It was with their front line, having a bear front but having the outside guys play back instead of walking up to the line of scrimmage, so we were confused with our gap blocking schemes. At halftime … we talked to the offensive linemen about how to block that scheme.”
The Eagles started running to the outside more as well and that’s where Procacinni went to break the first big run, a 50-yard gain on the second play of the second half. Two plays later, Howard took the keeper for a 3-yard touchdown.
Procacinni, who ran three times for 134 yards, scored his 76-yard touchdown to boost the Eagles lead to 17-0 with 4:05 left in the third quarter.
In between touchdowns, an interception by Pierce Brodsky set up Beattie’s field goal.
Johnson finally got into the end zone with a 1-yard scord to give the Eagles a 24-0 lead with 5:58 left. He also scored on a 46-yard run with less than four minutes to go and freshman defensive end Dani Dennis-Sutton sacked Gilman senior quarterback Josh Ettlinger in the end zone to finish off the Eagles’ scoring with a safety.
“We just had a couple minor errors,” Gilman first-year coach Nick Bach said, “and that’s a really good team and they struck us pretty hard when we made mistakes… A couple little ones here and there and the little ones are big ones against a good team with a good running back.”
Just before those last McDonogh points, Ettlinger orchestrated Gilman’s best drive of the game. He completed three passes for a total of 29 yards to Will Godine, Jackson McCambridge and Jermaine Conyers and then ran for a 25-yard gain before Conyers scored on a four-yard run off the direct snap.