A year removed from the last Gilman-McDonogh football game, Eagles players are trying to forget about that game while the Greyhounds prefer to hold on to the memories.
That seems odd considering McDonogh pounded Gilman, 37-6, in last November's season finale to finish 11-0 and champions of the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference, but it works as a mental strategy on both sides in preparation for the 99th edition of their rivalry game Saturday at 2 p.m. at Gilman.
Nobody wants to be considered the favorite.
"We have to act like we didn't do anything last year, like we're the underdogs," said McDonogh lineman Ellis McKennie III. "We have to come in with that mentality and forget about what happened last year. That doesn't mean anything right now."
Even though Gilman is the top-ranked team in the state, hasn't lost an A Conference game this season and has outscored its A Conference opponents by an average of 28.6 points, the Greyhounds still feel the sting of that lopsided loss to their fiercest rival.
"It's been with us every day since it happened," Gilman quarterback Kai Locksley said. "It's been in our locker room and in our weight room and in our actual rooms at home, so it's definitely something that stuck to us. It helped us get through the hard, tough days. In football, there's some days when you don't feel like doing it, you don't feel like working hard, you don't feel like being there, but we have that scoreboard stuck in our head, that 37-6, and that's really helped drive us through."
Last year's Eagles win was the first over Gilman in five years and McDonogh's first outright championship since 2000 when they were undefeated and won the B Conference. Gilman, which has won three of the last five titles outright, has a record 11 A Conference championships since the MIAA was formed in 1995.
Although the Greyhounds try not to focus on it, wide receiver Alonzo Mayo said this is a revenge game.
"They beat us last year and we're looking to beat them this year, so that is revenge if you want to call it that," Mayo said. "But for us, it's all about us and our process and what we do, so we're not too worried about our opponents. If we go out there and we play our game then we'll be okay and this last game will be a little better than the one last year."
In this football rivalry — the area's second oldest after 126 years of City-Poly — tradition infuses the intensity. That's true even when the A Conference championship is on the line, as it is again this year. No. 1 Gilman can win it outright, but if the No. 3 Eagles win, the two will share the title.
Gilman, 8-2 overall, is 5-0 in the conference. McDonogh is 6-3 overall and 4-1 in the conference with its only loss coming against No. 9 St. Frances, 8-3.
"This is my 21st McDonogh-Gilman game, and normally the team that wins the game is the team that plays the hardest, whoever wants it more," Eagles coach Dom Damico said. "I've never had to motivate kids with the McDonogh-Gilman game. There are years when we are 0-9 going into the game and the kids are jacked up, fired up just as they are when we're 10-0.
"It's an unbelievable tradition and rivalry. Both schools are doing things all week long leading up to the game, so there's no need to motivate the kids. They're going to be fired up, ready to play."
One of the week's traditions has the captains of each team visit the opposing school. One of them talks to the opposing team's student body about the rivalry.
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"We have the big rivalry on the field, but off the field a lot of us are good friends," McKennie said. "Both of the teams really respect each other. I think that's the really good part of this rivalry. … [In the speech,] I'm talking about what the rivalry has meant to me. I told them the four things I believe make the rivalry — dedication, passion, respect and honor."
For two senior-dominated teams, a long season comes down to a few hours on Saturday afternoon when they have a chance to put that final mark on their high school careers. Then they'll shake hands and they'll mean it.
"I think it adds to the intensity of the rivalry, the amount of respect we have for one another," Mayo said. "It definitely is a great aspect of the rivalry, because during the game, for that hour and a half or however long it is, we're pretty good enemies, but after the game and before, we always are pretty cordial."