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November 7, 2009

Ali-El, Poly stun City in overtime

Through all the pre-game energy, through all the post-game tears, there is little doubt: Poly and City fought a battle worthy of a 121-year rivalry. In front of 8,168 raucous fans at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, Poly (9-1) came away with a thrilling, emotional 26-20 overtime victory over rival City (7-3) on Saturday afternoon.

"This is such as emotional game," said Poly coach Roger Wrenn, whose team now leads the all-time series with City, 60-54-6. "Everything was on the line; it was a huge, huge game. We told the kids, 'You're not going to remember who you sat next to in English class, but you will remember this game. You'll always remember when Poly beat City in overtime.'"

After City's Deandre Harris fumbled in overtime, Poly running back Gabriel Ali-El scampered into the end zone from 9 yards out. The game-winning run clinched a share of the Baltimore City Division I title and a No. 3 seed in the 3A North region playoffs.

"It's my first year playing in this game and there's a lot of energy and excitement," said Ali-El, who was elected MVP after his 14-carry, 162-yard performance. "To come out with a victory in overtime like this makes you feel good.

"We came out here and we knew we had to play hard because City has played hard all year," Ali-El continued. "We had to come out and make big plays."

Indeed, big plays defined this game -- interceptions, long runs, fumbles, Hail Mary's throughout. But the game reached a fever pitch late in the fourth quarter with City trailing 20-14 and just over three minutes left.

The Black Knights were backed up at their own 8-yard line after a Poly punt pinned them deep. On first down City quarterback Adrian Coxson pump-faked before pulling the ball down to run. He dashed left, beat a defender to the corner and then turned on the jets. He didn't throttle back until he crossed the goal line, 92 yards later. All City needed was an extra point to take the lead. But Coxson, who doubles as the kicker, missed wide left. Tie game.

Thus the 121st meeting between Poly and City went into overtime knotted at 20. City had first possession on the 10-yard line. Harris got the first carry on an off-tackle run, but Poly linebacker Dylan Acab read the play and smacked him at the line of scrimmage. The ball popped loose and Engineers defensive back Jermaine Boone pounced on it.

"We've been practicing all week and we knew what they were going to do," Acab said. "Coach Wrenn always says big players make big plays. And we all made a big play on that run."

Poly needed just one score to win. On first down quarterback Darell Milburn, who replaced the injured Antoine Goodson, ran for 1 yard. On second down, Poly called a "sprint-right fly," also known as an off-tackle run to Ali-El. The junior running back blasted through a hole and carried several City defenders into the end zone, giving the Engineers the win.

"The coaches told me they were going to give me the ball on the second play, so I figured I had to score and get the win," Ali-El said. "My line was blocking hard all game. And on this play they knew it was big and they pushed the defense back and let me get into the end zone."

Wrenn lauded his players' execution after the game.

"In overtime we told the defense to try to cause a fumble, try to rip the ball out," Wrenn said. "Then when it was our turn on offense we said, 'Let 's take the offensive linemen and blow them into the end zone.' We gave it to Gabriel on our bread and butter play and he scored."

The finish was a microcosm of the entire game. In fact, the excitement started on the first play from scrimmage. Coxson tried to run, but Poly's defense immediately forced a fumble and took over on their 48-yard line. But City's defense responded in kind, recovering a Goodson fumble.

With the Black Knights driving, Coxson went for a home run pass down the sideline, but Poly's Khari Al-Mateen intercepted the pass. Eight plays and 80 yards later, Poly had the game's first score on a 25-yard touchdown run by Goodson. Jamel Chappell (six rushes for 66 yards) tacked on the two-point conversion, making it 8-0 midway through the first quarter.

City answered on the next possession. On the seventh play of the drive the Black Knights faced a fourth-and-3 from the Poly 36. Instead of going with a conventional run, the Penn State-bound Coxson dialed up another deep ball. This time he connected with a wide-open Avery Griffin for a touchdown (City's Alfonzo Hawkins ran in the two-point attempt, tying the game at 8). It was the first of three Coxson touchdowns on the day.

"It's a huge loss losing Adrian [next year]," said City coach George Petrides, referring to his departing senior. "But it's always like that. We'll have to find other guys to step up."

Poly grabbed the lead back late in the second quarter. Ali-El broke free for 44 yards, setting his team up inside the City 5-yard line. Two Goodson runs later, he scored and Poly led 14-8 (the point-after missed).

That's when the Engineers went for the knockout. On the ensuing kickoff Poly's Brian Tanner recovered an on-side kick at the City 49. But City's John Thomas picked off a Goodson pass, keeping the score a one-touchdown game at halftime.

It was the last pass Goodson would throw. Halfway through he third quarter, Goodson was blindsided by a City defender. Goodson, who fumbled on the play, landed hard on his right shoulder, the same shoulder he hurt earlier in the year. He left the game and didn't return. His status is unknown. In came the sophomore Milburn, who helped Poly beat Patterson back in Week 4.

"[After the injury] we gathered the guys and Milburn came in," Wrenn said. "We calmed him down and told him he'd be fine. And he was fine. And some other people picked it up, too."

Before Milbrun could get started, however, City had the ball inside Poly's red zone, courtesy of Goodson's fumble. On third down, Coxson found a wide-open Hawkins in the corner of the end zone. His second touchdown pass made it 14-14.

Poly needed a spark, and this time their special teams delivered. When City went back to punt, Poly's Devin Young knifed through the line and blocked the kick. The Engineers recovered on the City 24. Four plays later, Milburn ran a 14-yard sneak up the middle for a touchdown. Poly had a 20-14 lead with 10:37 left in the game.

City wasted a scoring opportunity when Hawkins fumbled inside the Poly 5, but the Black Knights got the ball back at their own 8-yard line. Enter Coxson (143 yards rushing, 91 yards passing, three touchdowns), who delivered a 92-yard game-tying run.

The City crowed erupted, sending tremors throughout M&T Bank. But a few minutes later it was the Poly fans who were celebrating after Ali-El rumbled into the end zone in overtime.

"I'm disappointed, but this was a classic City-Poly game," said Petrides, whose team was knocked out of the 2A North playoffs. "I don't like to lose this way, but it was a great game."


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