Arundel retained the Mears Cup with its win over Meade and also assured itself a spot in the Maryland 4A East playoffs. (Tom Schad/For The Washington Post)

Arundel and Meade share the most heated rivalry in Anne Arundel County, one which spans the better part of four decades. So perhaps it’s fitting the latest installment came down to a single yard in overtime Friday night in Gambrills.

As Meade quarterback DJ Pate approached the line of scrimmage on fourth and goal from the 1 with the No. 11 Mustangs down by a touchdown, he pointed to himself. “I’m taking it,” he told the Wildcats’ defensive line. “Okay,” Arundel linebacker Diondre Wallace answered.

Wallace led the push forward as Arundel stopped Pate short. Then the junior linebacker sprinted toward midfield to meet his teammates as the Wildcats celebrated their 12th consecutive win over Meade, 24-17.

The victory ensured that the Wildcats (8-2, 8-2 Anne Arundel) will hold on to the Mears Cup — named for the late Jerry Mears, who coached at both schools — for another year. It also ensured that they will return to the Maryland 4A East region playoffs, which begin next week. Arundel will travel to face No. 8 Old Mill (10-0).

“Nobody else thought we could do this,” Wallace said. “Nobody. In the beginning of the year, everybody was talking about Old Mill, Meade and Broadneck. Nobody thought we could do it, and honestly we don’t even care.”

Victor Mack returned a kickoff 75 yards with three minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, but Meade (8-2, 8-2) answered. Pate found Tyree Turner for a 48-yard score with less than one minute remaining to force overtime.

Arundel’s Larry Barnes (99 yards on 20 carries) burst through the right side for a 10-yard touchdown. The defense took over from there.

Despite the last-minute meltdown that brought the game to overtime, Arundel’s defense didn’t lose an ounce of confidence. Arundel Coach Chuck Markiewicz couldn’t say why.

“If I knew, I’d put that [stuff] in a bottle and we’d all be rich,” he said. “I don’t know. These kids are just like that. They’re unflappable. . . . All I know is that they’ve got a lot of courage, and I’m real happy that I’m coaching them.”

While Arundel’s fast-paced, no-huddle offense has long been the focus of opposing teams, the defense has proved its mettle time and time again this season. It’s that defense that needs to play well in the playoffs.

Arundel needed to win its last two games to lock up a postseason berth. Wide receiver Isaiah Watson spoke to the team after the game and referred to the victory as the team’s second playoff win, with a third on the way.

“We’ve still got a lot of football left to play,” Markiewicz said. “We’ve got to kind of keep our emotions in check. We’ve still got miles to go before we sleep.”