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November 6, 2009

Forest Park pulls off the impossible, wins City title

Forest Park senior Angelo Lewis cried uncontrollably in his coach's arms. He couldn't believe it. This was unreal.

Ten minutes earlier, with 1:10 left on the clock and visiting Lake Clifton (7-3) driving for a potentially game-winning touchdown, Lewis laid a vicious hit on running back Ernest Dixon. The hit jarred the ball loose, and one of Lewis' teammates jumped on it, sealing a 6-0 Forest Park victory. Afterwards, Lewis stood in the corner of his team's locker room, alone with his thoughts.

"I was just thinking, we can't lose this game. We got to win, we got to win," said Lewis, who also had a key interception. "We needed a big play, and that one play gave us the win. "

But this was more than just one play; more than just one win. Forest Park had just completed a regular season fit for Disney. Real life isn't supposed to play out like this.

How could Forest Park, coming off a dismal 2-8 season, rebound to finish 9-0 for their first undefeated season in 40 years? How could Forest Park, the school everyone forgot, win their first Baltimore City Division II championship since 1996? How could Forest Park, a school devoid of stars, continue to win again and again and again? Utterly unbelievable, inconceivable, implausible.

Best start believing.

"People doubted us all year," Forest Park's first-year coach Damon Bomar told his team in the locker room after the game. "And you all kept shutting them up, persevering. I'm so proud of you. You'll remember this day for the rest of your life. I guarantee you."

Senior quarterback Travis Fonseca stood next to his coach, a stunned expression on his face. It was his 75-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter that proved to be the difference in the game.

"It feels so awesome to win [the City championship]," Fonseca said. "No one thought we could do it. But we came out every single game and played as a team. We really earned this."

In a game dominated by defense and riddled with penalties and turnovers, Forest Park managed just one big offensive play all game.

Late in the first quarter, Lake Clifton quarterback Dewayne Washington (2 for 14 for 43 yards) tried to connect on a deep ball, but Lewis intercepted the pass. Thus the Foresters took control at their own 17-yard line.

After a first down, Forest Park had it second-and-15 at the 25. The call came in for a pass. At the snap Arrakeem Dedmon, who was lined up in the backfield, ran a wheel route. The cornerback failed to cover him as he streaked down the left sideline. Fonseca hit his man in stride, and Dedmon waltzed untouched into the end zone. The extra point missed, but the 6-0 lead turned out to be insurmountable.

"At that point I'm thinking it's time to shine," Fonseca said. "I thought we had to score a touchdown early. We had to get in that end zone."

Neither team scored again, despite having tremendous field position all game. Penalties and turnovers proved fatal. Forest Park committed 11 penalties and turned the ball over three times, all inside Lakers territory. Meanwhile, Lake Clifton had eight penalties and also coughed it up three times.

On top of that, both defenses played well. Forest Park held the Lakers to 178 yards of total offense, and Lake Clifton held the Foresters to just over 200 yards, with 75 coming on one play.

"If it wasn't for that blown coverage we would still be playing in overtime," said Lake Clifton coach James Monroe. "We gave Forest Park all they could handle."

Driving deep inside Lakers territory, Forest Park had a chance to add to their lead in the second quarter. But Fonseca (3 for 6 for 86 yards) threw an interception. And the exact same thing happened on the next drive.

Given new life, Lake Clifton's offense started moving right before halftime. But with the ball at the Foresters' 25, Washington's pass was picked off by Chidi Flowers.

Lake Clifton had more opportunities to score in the second half, none bigger than when they started inside Forest Park territory after a crucial fourth quarter Foresters fumble. With Forest Park trying to run out the clock, Pat Makell lost the ball when linebacker Sammie McKay ripped it away. The Lakers had a shot to tie.

Starting at their opponent's 47, Lake Clifton began a methodical final drive. Behind running back Jerome Speden (13 rushes for 96 yards), they moved down to the Forest Park 4-yard line. With 70 seconds left, Lake Clifton called a run for bruising fullback Dixon. Dixon ran straight up the gut, but Lewis met him in the hole and stripped the ball loose. Game over.

"I'm thinking bend but don't break, bend but don't break," Bomar said. "Our defense stepped up and fought to the end. They've been doing that all season."

While Forest Park's bench erupted, Lake Clifton's went as quiet as a morgue.

"We had a control of the game all through the second half, and then we had a good drive, were on the 4 and all we needed was a touchdown," Monroe said. "And we made a mistake. Mistakes like that happen. I feel sorry for the kids because they worked so hard for this."

But Forest Park worked hard, too. And this year, they're the team that has found ways to win, time and time again. The job isn't finished - the playoffs await - but the Foresters couldn't help but bask in what they'd accomplished.

"I feel real good for the school and the kids," Bomar said. "They worked hard from Day One, and they had faith in my system. I love them like they are my sons. I'm blessed to coach them."


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