Late in the third quarter, Meade’s offense took over at the Old Mill 30-yard-line with the home crowd behind it and a chance to take the lead. But Old Mill’s Noah Fitzgerald wasn’t about to let that happen.
The linebacker crashed the backfield, and Meade fumbled the ball on an exchange between quarterback and running back. Fitzgerald recovered it and rumbled 16 yards.
“They were getting hot, it was getting bad,” Fitzgerald said. “Somebody needed to step up and make a play. I saw an opportunity.”
The fumble recovery swung the momentum in Old Mill’s 30-20 win at Meade (2-1) Friday night. The Patriots (3-0) converted Fitzgerald’s fumble recovery into points with a 10-play drive, capped with a two-yard touchdown by running back Donovan Franklin.
For most of the night, Fitzgerald played to contain the edge against a Meade offense that ran for 216 rushing yards. But with his teammates on defense in need of a big play, the junior attacked the offensive backfield, taking a key from the scouting report.
“I recognized the play, I’d seen it all week in practice,” Fitzgerald said.
Though Fitzgerald’s defensive stop propelled Old Mill to victory, neither defense could contain the other’s rushing attack. Meade’s Kyle Evans ran for 134 yards and a touchdown and Old Mill’s Marcus Hicks rushed for 136 yards and two touchdowns.
Turnovers were a factor, with the Patriots forcing three to the Mustangs’ none. Fitzgerald came away with two of those.
The first came midway through the second quarter, when he intercepted a pass from Marcus Smith with Meade in Old Mill territory. Smith dropped back, looked to his right and rifled a tight spiral. Fitzgerald, also a wide receiver on offense, read the quarterback’s eyes and disguised his drop, leaping at the last second to pick it off.
“Hey, I’m a receiver first,” Fitzgerald said, smiling.
Fitzgerald returned the interception 23 yards to give Old Mill the ball at the Meade 35. A play later, Hicks scored on a long touchdown run.
Hicks added another long run late in the game after Meade was unable to recover an onside kick with just under two minutes remaining and staring at a 24-20 deficit. On second and eight, the Old Mill line opened a gaping hole up the middle for Hicks to run through, who sprinted 44 yards to the end zone to put the game away.
“The line blocked it up the way it was [designed],” Hicks said. “We always talk about linemen, assignments and execution. We had all three of those right there. It was an easy run after that.”