Shortly before 11 p.m. Friday, Parkdale Coach Mike Rucker followed the last of his football players out of the locker room at Ravens Stadium. He looked outside and saw his players reveling after winning Parkdale's first Maryland 4A title in 28 years with a 34-14 victory over Sherwood.
He saw players, some of whom barely knew each other before the season, hugging. He saw parents and the Parkdale student body cheering their heroes as the players boarded the bus for the 35-mile ride back to the Riverdale school.
And then the finality of the situation dawned on him.
"I couldn't believe it; our season was done," Rucker said. "I almost hated to see it end. I looked around and knew there are no more games to prepare for. It's over."
The Panthers (11-1) made up for nearly three decades of futility and frustration by scoring three offensive and one defensive touchdown in the first 19 minutes 26 seconds, taking complete control of the game in the opening moments and never allowing Sherwood (10-2) a chance to recover.
"We've been overlooked all season and this was our chance to prove we're the best team in the state," said Parkdale junior quarterback Anthony Brown, who ran for 68 yards and two touchdowns on six carries and threw a 50-yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Markus McFadden. "What makes this win special is that we didn't win because we have one or two great players -- we had a whole team."
Parkdale's skill position players produced as they had all season -- Brown, senior running back Kevin Beverly (123 yards) and McFadden combined for all five touchdowns. But the team's unheralded players enabled Parkdale to dominate a Sherwood team that had not given up 20 points in a game this season.
"Our offensive line was awesome," Rucker said. "I said one thing to our team before the game: We've ridden the backs of our big babies all season, so let's ride them to a state championship."
Rucker gave his six-player offensive line rotation that nickname because heading into the season, only senior left tackle Carlos Crestwell played last season. Junior right guard Jerel Walker, junior right tackle Alec Taylor and senior Javon Bradley all started on junior varsity last season. Senior center Eblin Molina was a varsity backup who saw action in about 20 plays all of last season, and senior left guard Danny Oriola missed last season with a knee injury.
"We knew we had one of the best offensive lines in the state," Crestwell said. "We knew if we could beat Sherwood up front, we would win the game."
The blockers enabled the Panthers to run 17 plays that gained at least seven yards, including 10 plays that gained at least 10.
The offensive line established itself early, and Parkdale scored on three of its first four possessions. Brown ran 19 yards for a touchdown on the Panthers' third play from scrimmage and connected with McFadden for a 50-yard score soon thereafter. Another Brown run -- from one yard out -- produced a 21-0 lead with 8:41 left in the second quarter.
"We wanted to go out there and go right after them," McFadden said. "The state championship game is something we'll all remember for the rest of our lives . . . and in the biggest game of the season, everyone on our team played the best they have all season."