By Josh Barr
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 4, 2010; 12:20 AM
BALTIMORE - Nearly half an hour had passed since he put his knee on the field and milked the final seconds off the clock, but Urbana quarterback Michael Spahr was still clutching the game ball under his right arm. And he was not letting go anytime soon.
Spahr, a junior, completed three critical passes on the game-winning drive, capped by a 17-yard touchdown pass to Jude Merkel early in the third quarter for the game's only score as fifth-ranked Urbana beat sixth-ranked Wise, 6-0, in the Maryland 4A championship game before 4,500 at M&T Bank Stadium on Friday.
The victory capped one of the most dominant seasons in state history. The Hawks (13-0) never trailed all season, and their first-string defense allowed just two touchdowns. It was the fifth state football title for Urbana, which opened in 1995.
"I've dreamt about this since I was 7 years old," said Spahr, who completed just 1 of 3 passes in the first half before making all the plays on the decisive drive. "This has been my life, something I've committed myself to all offseason long."
The game was expected to be a defensive battle and did not disappoint. Wise had the best chances to score in the first half, but came up empty.
The Pumas had third and one at the Urbana 30-yard line when quarterback DeAndre Smith appeared to surprise the defense with a deep pass, but an open receiver dropped the ball just as he crossed the goal line. Smith scampered for 11 yards on fourth down to get a new set of downs, but Wise was unable to get into the end zone.
On first and goal from the 7, Wise Coach DaLawn Parrish unsuccessfully tried to call timeout because his team had just 10 players on the field. The play was a run that gained four yards, but Merkel wrapped up the running back and defensive back Aaron Bing jarred the ball loose for a fumble. Urbana's Blake Gatewood recovered at the Hawks 3-yard line.
"Somebody is looking out for us," Urbana first-year Coach Ryan Hines said. "There's a lot of things that go on that you don't have an explanation for. But everything happens for a reason."
Wise (12-2) did not advance inside the Urbana 40 the rest of the game, losing in the state final for the second consecutive season. The Pumas lost to Old Mill, 17-16, last year.
Playing in a state final for the first time since 2001, when it won its 50th consecutive game and fourth consecutive title, Urbana struggled offensively in the first half. The Hawks were conservative, relying on their stout defense and not taking chances on offense.
But on the opening possession of the third quarter, Spahr took over. On third and seven, he passed to Merkel for 24 yards. He then passed to Bing for 29 yards, who hauled in the pass despite playing with a cast on his broken right thumb, on third and 16. On the next play, Merkel lined up at tight end along the right side of the line of scrimmage, faked like he was going to block, then ran a corner route.
"I saw him starting to come open," Spahr said. "We've practiced that play so many times. I knew when I released the ball, he was going to be there."