* Patuxent 27, No. 18 Calvert 20
After all of the whooping and hollering had subsided Friday, Patuxent senior center Jason Goff made his way to midfield and planted a kiss smack in the middle of the football field mud. His senior cohorts pointed, laughed and might have joined him had it not been for the mess.
With a sign hanging on the far fence that read "Tradition Never Graduates," the Panthers put aside their three losses this season and played No. 18 Calvert with the kind of fervor that their early-season struggles could very well have quashed. The result was a 27-20 win that wasn't secured until the final 36 seconds of play.
"This is like winning the state championship game," said Patuxent senior wide receiver Luis Perez. "Our team came out so fired up, we were determined we weren't going to lose, not this time."
In control most of the game, Patuxent (5-3, 4-2 Southern Maryland Athletic Conference) had its resolve tested midway through the final quarter. Calvert senior Taros Harris, making his second start at quarterback, lofted a pass near the goal line that tipped off Patuxent seniors Perez and Dan Pernell before bouncing into the arms of tailback Byron Washington. The score gave the Cavaliers (5-2, 4-1), who were without suspended tailback Dervon Wallace, a 20-19 lead with 5:44 remaining.
"The way the ball has bounced for us this year I looked at that play and, really, thought, 'That's typical,' " first-year Patuxent Coach Steve Crounse said. "It was such a fluky play. But instead of getting our heads down, we came back out with great purpose on our next drive, and great poise. We did everything you need to do to put together a game-winning drive."
That included a couple of hard runs up the middle by Pernell (19 carries, 75 yards) and senior Chad Wallace (13 yards rushing, 127 receiving), a key pass to Perez and, perhaps most important, two critical scrambles by senior quarterback Justyn Lankford for 13 and 7 yards.
"We knew Justyn could run, and he did a nice job on a couple of busted plays down there of making something happen," Calvert Coach Brad Criss said. "We collapsed on him and cut off the path he wanted to take, but he made something out of nothing."
Lankford capped the 65-yard, 11-play drive with a 1-yard dive up the middle for the game's final margin. It assured the Panthers of their third consecutive victory over their biggest rival and a second straight undefeated record at home.
"We came into this game with nothing to lose and a lot to prove to everyone, including ourselves," Lankford said. "This means so much to our team."
It meant a lot not only to the players, but also to Crounse, who admitted he was beginning to feel the pressure of inheriting a program fresh off a run to the Maryland 3A final.
When Friday's game ended, former coach Jim Esposito was among those offering Crounse a congratulatory hug. Also there to embrace him were a handful of family members, including his parents, who had driven from Pennsylvania to see the game.
"I kind of feel like I grew up as a head coach in four quarters," Crounse said. "As a staff, we feel like a weight has been lifted off our shoulders a little bit. I can't say enough for how much leadership Justyn Lankford showed on that last drive. I'm so happy for all of the seniors.
"Getting into the playoffs may not be as realistic a goal as we had hoped, but at least we gave them this. These seniors never lost to their biggest rival, and they finished on their home field like champions."