BALTIMORE — His 49 touchdowns this season set a single-season Maryland record and yet the Quince Orchard Cougars had kept him out of the end zone all night, becoming the first team this year to do so.
But Rob Chesson would probably trade all 49 of those touchdowns for the two-point conversion he scored in overtime that capped a dramatic come-from-behind 36-35 win for Old Mill in the 2011 4A state championship game at M&T Bank Stadium.
"Coach McCormick put his trust in me and I thank the coaches for putting the ball in my hands and giving me the opportunity," Chesson said of the game-winning score.
After Quince Orchard (13-1) scored first on its overtime possession — a Billy Plante to Tyrell Williams pass from 7 yards out — Old Mill (14-0) quickly answered with a touchdown of its own. That's when first-year Old Mill coach Chad McCormick made a gutsy call— the only call he could make, he revealed after the game.
Patriots quarterback Deonte Shields scored on a 1-yard run and McCormick called time out and gathered his team for one final pep talk. When they emerged from the huddle, it was clear that McCormick had made the decision to try for the two-point conversion.
"I told them 'It's gut check time.' I told them we were going to win or lose the state championship on that play, and losing wasn't an option," McCormick said of what he told his team during the time out. "I looked at Rob and said, 'you have to get in the end zone.' And he had the confidence to do it."
McCormick said the decision to go for two was a difficult one, but it was the best decision he could make, given the flow of the game.
"That decision was a tough one, but it would have been tougher to go another four downs against that Quince Orchard defense," McCormick said. "They were tough to move the ball on and we had the opportunity to go for broke and Rob Chesson has been diving into the end zone all year and he dove one more time when we needed it most."
So, Chesson lined up in the back field, took the pitch to the left side of the line and dove into the end zone surrounded by a swarm of black jerseys to give Old Mill the title.
For Dave Mencarini and the Cougars, it was a role reversal for a team that had made good habit of comeback games themselves.
In 2007, the Cougars trailed Arundel by 16 points in the third quarter of the 4A title game before rallying to win, 36-30. And last year in the first round of the playoffs, Quince Orchard overcame a 15-0 deficit to beat Seneca Valley, 19-15. But, this time around, QO was on the receiving end of the late-game heroics.
Quince Orchard had led all night, including 21-0 late in the first half — thanks to a pair of rushing touchdowns from Mark Green and a 2-yard pass from Plante to Marty Heyn — and despite having let Old Mill back into the game in the second half, the Cougars still held on to a 28-21 lead with 42 seconds left in the game.
Just when it looked as though Mencarini and the Cougars were about to celebrate the school’s third state championship and second in five years, Shields connected with Carl Chance for a 70-yard touchdown pass to make it 28-27 with less than a minute to play. An excessive celebration penalty made the extra point a 35-yard try, but Brady Hannon’s kick was true and Old Mill had tied the game for the first time with less than a minute left in regulation.
On the ensuing possession, Plante was intercepted by Torie Wagner, who returned it 33 yards to the Quince Orchard 13 but Hannon’s 30-yard field goal attempt was wide left, which sent the game into overtime where Old Mill would be victorious.
"Obviously this was a very tough loss," said a teary-eyed Mencarini after the game. "You know how many times we’ve been on the other end of games like these. In my eight years here, I’ve won games like these. And now I know what it feels like to be on the opposite side of it. But one game does not define who we are. I’m really proud of my kids."
Quince Orchard was able to contain Chesson all night, holding the state’s leading rusher to 152 yards on 25 carries — the least amount of yards for Chesson since Sept. 23.
But in the end, it was Old Mill’s passing game that did the most damage. In addition to Shields’ 70-yard pass late in the fourth quarter, he also had a 64-yard touchdown pass to Wagner on the final play of the third quarter that made it 28-21 with 12 minutes to play.
Shields finished with 237 yards and three touchdown passes. And his 5-yard touchdown pass to Devin Salisbury with 17 seconds left in the first half made it 21-7 heading into halftime, giving Old Mill some momentum heading into the break.
"You can’t fight both," Mencarini said, adding that their focus on Chesson’s run game may have opened up opportunities for Shields' pass game. "We knew we were rolling the dice a little bit in certain situations."
Old Mill also got momentum to start the second half when a botched kick-off return was picked up by Wagner, who took it in from 23 yards out to make it 21-14 with 11:52 left in the third quarter.
Both Mencarini and McCormick called that play a game-changer.
"We turned the ball over at a crucial time," Mencarini said. "But give them credit. This is the first time that I can remember that we’ve lost a game where we’ve had a two-touchdown lead."
McCormick added: "All of the sudden it’s a 7-point ball game and we were right back in the game."
Despite scoring again on a 2-yard Green run to make it 28-14 with 2:39 left in the third, QO was held off the board in the fourth and was unable to hold off the late Old Mill charge.
Green finished with three touchdowns and 216 yards off 42 carries in the losing effort for the Cougars. After the game, Mencarini reflected on Green's career at the school.
"He’s the best running back we’ve ever had," Mencarini said. "Mark Green deserves to win a state championship. All the guys in the locker room deserve to win a state championship. But, Mark’s legacy and all these guys’ legacy is a lot more than this one game."
For Old Mill, it is the second state title in three years (the Patriots beat Wise in 2009, 17-16). And McCormick believes this helps cement Old Mill’s legacy as one of the state’s elite programs.
"We’ve won two state championships in three years," McCormick said. "We’re a powerful football program right now and that’s a credit to the commitment of the coaches and our players."
1: Q - Green 1 run (McPherson kick) - 7-0
2: Q - Heyn 2 pass from Plante (McPherson kick) - 14-0
2: Q - Green 5 run (McPherson kick) - 21-0
2: OM - Salisbury 6 pass from Shields (Hannon kick) - 21-7
3: OM - Wagner 23 fumble return (Hannon kick) - 21-14
3: Q - Green 2 run (McPherson kick) - 28-14
3: OM - Wagner 64 pass from Shields (Hannon kick) - 28-21
4: OM - Chance 70 pass (Hannon kick) - 28-28
OT: Q - Williams 7 pass from Plante (McPherson kick) - 35-28
OT: OM - Shields 1 run (Chesson run) - 36-35