Gwynn Park didn't look like the area's No. 4 team for most of the afternoon yesterday, trailing by 12 points entering the fourth quarter of its Maryland 3A semifinal against No. 20 River Hill.
But when it was over, the Yellow Jackets had a 30-21 victory and a trip to the state final for the second time in school history.
Down 21-9, Gwynn Park quarterback Andrew Banks connected with senior tight end Trevor Germany less than two minutes into the fourth quarter for a 21-yard touchdown. The Yellow Jackets rolled from there, shutting down a potent Hawks offense and fighting through their own mistakes to score 21 unanswered points.
"It was a hard-fought battle," said Gwynn Park senior running back-linebacker William Little, who scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns. "These are the types of games we like -- the close ones where you've just gotta get down to it and see who the best team is."
For the first three quarters, that team was River Hill, which took advantage of Gwynn Park penalties to sustain two drives that gave the Hawks a 14-9 lead at halftime. The Yellow Jackets were flagged 16 times for 105 yards, marking the second game in a row they have been penalized more than 100 yards.
"We played really well in the first half," River Hill Coach Brian Van Deusen said. "We were able to move the ball a little bit and we took advantage of their aggressiveness early on. Our plan was to come out here and mix up our counts because we knew they were real aggressive on defense and we could get some easy offside penalties."
River Hill junior quarterback Daniel Hostetler drew four offside penalties on the Yellow Jackets in the first half.
But Gwynn Park pulled it together, going to a passing game that was seldom used in the first half to get its first offensive score. Banks entered the game with 1,406 yards passing and 21 touchdowns, but he threw four times in the first half for 13 yards and an interception.
"It's all about being patient when you get down," Gwynn Park Coach Danny Hayes said. "We didn't [pass] for a reason. We knew we could throw on them. We started pounding the ball, pounding the ball and pounding the ball. Once they thought we were going to pound the ball, we went to the air with it."
After Germany's score, the Yellow Jackets forced a punt and then went back to the ground game, giving the ball to Jerrell Coles, William Johnson and Little, who capped the 46-yard drive with a one-yard touchdown run. A two-point conversion gave the Yellow Jackets a 24-21 lead. Gwynn Park's Lawrence Johnson intercepted Hostetler's pass on the next drive and Little scored again on a one-yard run to seal the win.
If not for a few River Hill miscues in the first half, the climb back for Gwynn Park could have been much more arduous. River Hill drove to the Gwynn Park 6-yard line before William Johnson scooped up a fumble and took it 84 yards for a score. Defensive lineman Joshua Bime and Little combined to sack Hostetler for a safety in the first minute of the second quarter to give Gwynn Park a 9-0 lead before the Hawks began converting on offense.