It was shaping up to be one of the best county games all season, but when it ended Friday night the Old Mill football team was huddled in prayer, not in thanksgiving for a win or in mourning because of a loss, but for the health of the teenager shot during halftime of its game at Annapolis High School.
The game was called with 11:51 left in the fourth quarter and Annapolis leading 30-21. The injured teenager was treated at a hospital and released, and two people were arrested near the stadium.
Later that night after Old Mill had returned to its own school, Coach Mike Marcus met with the team and declined to continue the game on a later date, giving Annapolis a win that could have a significant impact on the playoffs in the tight 3A East Region race.
Before the game, the Panthers were .60 points out of the playoffs.
Now Annapolis (6-2) sits three points ahead of River Hill (7-1) for the last spot in its region with games against North County and Southern on the horizon.
"The mind-set all last week in practice was that this is the game," said Annapolis senior quarterback Matt Vollono. "If we don't win, we're not in the playoffs. We came in saying, 'This is it for the seniors.' "
Annapolis played like everything was on the line. The Panthers, who were held to 157 yards of offense against Severna Park in the Week 7, 16-0 loss, racked up 332 yards in three quarters of play Friday. Instead of fumbling on special teams like they did against Severna Park, the Panthers took the opening kickoff more than 70 yards to the Old Mill 8 yard line. Instead of getting shut out, the Panthers scored 21 points in the first quarter and had 27 by the end of the half.
"After our performance against Severna Park, we were disappointed," said Vollono, who was 4-for-8 and passed for 103 yards Friday. "We decided we had to make a statement. We had to show we're a team to look out for. I've been looking forward to playing this team all season to show that we're serious and we're no joke."
"The [opening] kick return really killed us," said Old Mill senior middle linebacker Andrew Hall. "Our team didn't come out fired up like we were supposed to. They took us by surprise in the beginning."
Hall said the slow start is something that has bothered the team this year.
"Usually we come back at halftime," Hall added. "I think we could have come back. That's how I look at our team. We should get on top of it at the beginning of the game. We need to bring it through from the first through the fourth quarter."
It's not clear whether Old Mill would have had the time to come back. The Patriots had almost a full quarter to work with after Ryan Callahan scored on a 45-yard touchdown run, his second touchdown of the night. But Annapolis was moving the ball well, too. In the third quarter, the Panthers ate up about eight minutes on a 19-play, 73-yard drive that ended with a 32-yard field goal by John Greenfield. Old Mill, however, has the ability to strike quickly -- its first scoring drive took 1 minute 26 seconds as Callahan took the ball 40 yards for a score; the second drive was one play, a pass from quarterback Kelian Stevens to receiver Steve Holmes; and the final score came in 32 seconds: two plays and then Callahan's 45-yarder.
But there was no doubt in the mind of Annapolis senior running back Errol Silva that the game belonged to the Panthers.
"Their linebackers were playing the run kind of soft, and we kind of took advantage of it," said Silva, who had 10 carries for 68 yards and two touchdowns. Annapolis ran for 229 yards and four touchdowns against the Patriots.
"The way we were running on them, their defense couldn't stop us at all," Silva added. "We would have marched down the field. I think we could have scored, at the rate we were going, 40 or 50 [points] on them."
Giving them extra incentive to put the game away was the incessant talk of how Callahan was going to run all over the Panther defense. Silva said one student even wore Callahan's home jersey to school and teased the Annapolis football players when she passed them. "It really [ticked] us off," Silva said. "It was disrespect."
"Everyone in our school, even people who didn't even know about football, was talking about Ryan this, Ryan that," Silva continued. "I wanted to win the game just to shut everybody up. Girls were coming up talking stuff. I was like, 'Why are you coming up to me? You don't know anything about football.' "
In the end, Callahan finished with 134 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries, but Silva got what he wanted: the win.