From the moment McDonogh lost to Gilman in last year's Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference football semifinal, the Eagles' offensive linemen decided they weren't going to get pushed around anymore.
This fall, no team has been able to handle the Eagles' offensive line, and it led the way for a dominating running game one last time Saturday as the No. 2 Eagles rolled over two-time defending champion and No. 1 Gilman, 37-6, to polish off an 11-0 season with the A Conference title.
The Eagles hadn't beaten Gilman in five years and they hadn't won an outright championship or finished undefeated since 2000, when they won the B Conference. They shared the A Conference title in 2006 and 2001.
In winning the 98th rivalry game between the two private school programs before a nearly-packed house at McDonogh, the Eagles scored four rushing touchdowns — two by Syl Brown (18 carries, 114 yards) and one each by Alex Hurdle (21 carries, 86 yards) and Kareem Montgomery.
Hurdle, a senior running back who has been the team workhorse lately, gave all the credit to his blockers — Jared Cohen, Ryan Ford, Ellis McKennie, Joey Fiorino, Chase Kirol and Wyatt Cook – who plowed the way for an offense that averaged 36.2 points this season.
"Our offensive linemen showed that they're the best in the league, no questions asked," Hurdle said. "Those guys won us this game today and won us all of our games this season. No doubt, they're the best line ever in McDonogh history — biggest, strongest, work the hardest, most athletic, everything."
That line was a major factor in the Eagles improving from 3-8 last season to 11 wins this fall, including a 6-0 record in the A Conference.
"As an offensive line we've been working hard since that day last year when we lost to Gilman, and we put the mindset on that we didn't want to get pushed around any more," Ford said. "We wanted to be bullying people and it turned out great. I can't end my senior year any better than with a win against Gilman and going undefeated."
McKennie said it took a while for the line to develop its chemistry.
"Last year, we were really young, really inexperienced and we have a really intricate scheme," said McKennie, a junior. "So after a year of going through it, this year we all really clicked. We've been in the weight room for a year, we'd all played one year together and we were ready to go."
McDonogh coach Dom D'Amico said even he was surprised at how the line overwhelmed Gilman, which leads the series 59-34-5.
"We've been running the ball for tons of yardage," Damico said. "Normally, you don't run the ball against Gilman because they're so strong up front, but our kids did. We dominated the line of scrimmage. Our backs ran hard. When we needed Jansen [Durham] to throw, he made the throws."
In addition to struggling on offense, the Greyhounds (7-3, 5-1) struggled on special teams, especially punting. After Hurdle gave the Eagles the early lead, teammate Mike Smith blocked Troy Vincent Jr.'s punt, giving McDonogh the ball on Gilman's 13-yard line. Three plays later, McDonogh quarterback Durham hit Josh Woods with a 7-yard touchdown pass. Ross Supovitz's extra point made it 14-0 just over seven minutes into the game.
Supovitz added a 22-yard field goal before Gilman scored its only touchdown on a 13-yard Antonio Dupree run to cut the lead to 17-6 with 1:35 to go before halftime.
Gilman had a chance to build momentum in the second half when McDonogh went three-and-out on the opening drive and Supovitz shanked his punt. The Greyhounds started on the Eagles' 33-yard line, but turned the ball over on the 3.
The Eagles went three-and-out but, again, Gilman couldn't convert. Eagles linebackers Cook and Connor Young honed in on opposing ball carriers all afternoon and a drive that started on McDonogh's 30 ended when Young tackled Dupree in the backfield on fourth down.
On three of its next four drives, McDonogh scored — including a 43-yard touchdown run by Montgomery and a 50-yard run by Brown. Woods also intercepted Gilman quarterback Kai Locksley, Gilman's second turnover of the half.
"They just beat us so soundly," Gilman coach Biff Poggi said. "I think there have only been one or two other games in my career where teams have beaten us this soundly. They deserve a lot of credit. They have a very good football team."
G 0 6 0 0 -- 6
M 14 3 6 14 --37
M—Hurdle 1 run (Supovitz kick)
M—Woods 7 pass from Durham (Supovitz kick)
M—Supovitz 22 FG
G—Dupree 13 run (run failed)
M—Montgomery 43 run (pass failed)
M—Brown 1 run (Supovitz kick)
M—Brown 50 run (Supovitz kick)