Until Friday night, that is.
Trailing by three points with three minutes left in its 4A East region semifinal in Millerssville, Arundel quarterback Anthony Messenger orchestrated an 80-yard drive, including a pair of fourth-down conversions, and connected on a 22-yard scoring pass to Don Keith with 1 minute 12 seconds remaining. That fade ultimately proved to be the difference, as Old Mill’s late game-tying field goal attempt was off the mark, giving the Wildcats a 25-22 victory over the previously unbeaten and eighth-ranked Patriots.
“Each week, on Thursdays, we script the end of the game, like a two-minute drill trying to drive down and get a field goal,” said Messenger, who threw for 270 yards and ran for 69 more. “But there, we needed a touchdown. And we got it, as a team.”
After nearly being eliminated from playoff contention last week, Arundel (9-2) has now advanced to the 4A East region final next week. The Wildcats will face Meade, which upended Broadneck, 41-31, in the other semifinal game Friday.
“In the past, close games like that have slipped from our hands,” Arundel senior defensive back Kwame Kumah said. “We just choked them away. But this year, we’ve got something special going on. We’re a resilient group.”
Never was that more clear on Friday than when wide receiver, kicker and punter Isaiah Watson left the game with a leg injury. Arundel trotted out a backup punter with no varsity punting experience and a backup kicker who had never made an extra point, resulting in two blocks.
The supremely confident Patriots (10-1) brought the county’s only unbeaten record into the matchup. But as their potential game-tying 35-yard field goal landed wide right with 2.5 seconds remaining, dreams of a third state title in five years went up in smoke.
When the field goal attempt hit the ground, the Wildcats raced down the visiting sideline as the metal bleachers beside them erupted. While Coach Chuck Markiewicz was elated after the win, he was hoping for a different reaction.
“I told our kids last week, I told them all week long. I said, ‘I want you to practice walking off the field like you came here to do something,’ ” Markiewicz said. “We’re trying to be in this for the long haul.”