FORT MEADE — They exited Frank S. Battle Field with assorted ice packs, limps and somber glares. Some sobbed. Others seethed. Clearly, pushing the state’s top-ranked team to the brink wasn’t enough.
But the Berkeley Prep Buccaneers’ 27-20 overtime loss to Fort Meade came with a consolation prize: a rematch.
In what shaped up as the de facto Class 1A, District 6 title game, not to mention the first installment of a fledgling rivalry, the Buccaneers (5-2, 2-1) stunned the Miners with some Nelson Agholor haymakers but couldn’t put them away.
Fort Meade tied it with a field goal with 21 seconds to play in regulation then took the lead on Dwayne McCalebb’s 10-yard second-effort touchdown on the first play of overtime. Berkeley lost yardage on two of its ensuing three overtime plays before a fourth-down incompletion.
“I’m so proud of our kids,” Buccaneers coach Dominick Ciao said. “We battled; we’ve just got to be able to finish. We had some chances, but they’re a great football team, and it was a great atmosphere.”
That atmosphere is almost certain to be replicated on Thanksgiving weekend. Barring a major upset, the two will square off again at Battle Field in the second round of the 1A playoffs.
This time, expect Miners second-year coach Jemalle Cornelius, a former Florida Gator, to have a game plan devised almost exclusively for Agholor.
The junior Division I prospect’s 55-yard punt return in the first quarter gave Berkeley a 7-0 lead. In the second, he snagged a Destin Nichols pass for 28 yards on third and 14, preserving a 12-play scoring drive that put the Buccaneers ahead 17-7.
He also ran for 98 yards on 25 carries and played defense.
“We knew coming into it that (Agholor) was a big-time player, but seeing it in person, man, the guy’s awesome,” Cornelius said. “Up front their guys were physical. They pushed us around a little bit.”
The Miners (8-0, 3-0) pushed back in the second half. After the second of Justin Vogel’s two 37-yard field goals gave Berkeley a 20-10 lead, Fort Meade responded with an 11-play drive, capped by McCalebb’s 4-yard scoring run that made it 20-17 late in the third.
Berkeley forced a three-and-out on the next series then blocked Jonquin Cortez’s 33-yard field-goal attempt with 2:56 to play. Unable to get a first down on the ensuing possession, Berkeley punted with less than two minutes left.
Miners quarterback Ronald Jones then found tight end Donald Fulse for a pair of completions, giving the hosts a first down at the 12. On fourth and 5, Cortez nailed a 22-yard field goal with 21 seconds left.
“I’m proud of our kids playing hard, but we came here to win the game,” Ciao said. “It’s little details we’ve got to get right. With the game on the line, you’ve got to make some big plays, and they made them at the end.”