Quarterback Bryan Strittmatter stood beside Leo Ekwoge on the sideline early in their first game as full-time varsity starters, a nationally televised contest, and tapped the running back on the chest.
“I just had to get mine first,” Strittmatter told Ekwoge, the Our Lady of Good Counsel High School football players smiling at each other.
Set up by C.J. Carroll's 86-yard return of the opening kickoff, Ekwoge had just seen his touchdown run called back due to a questionable penalty, and on the next play, Strittmatter threw a 20-yard touchdown pass less than a minute into the 2013 season.
After Good Counsel's defense earned a stop, Ekwoge got his, a 53-yard touchdown run on the first play of Good Counsel's next drive.
Unfortunately for Good Counsel, those were its last points in a 20-14 loss to Gilman on Friday.
Good Counsel, which opened the season ranked No. 1 in the state media poll, held its lead into the game's final five minutes. But Gilman, ranked No. 3 in the state poll, threw a 16-yard touchdown pass, and Good Counsel's final drive fell just short. It was Good Counsel's first loss to a D.C.-area team in 26 games.
Afterward, Strittmatter wandered aimlessly near Good Counsel's post-game huddle before settling into a crouch in the back of the group.
In his first attempt during a post-game interview, Strittmatter got choked up as he began to describe the game.
“It was — I can't talk,” Strittmatter said. “I'm sorry.”
But Strittmatter stayed on the field, composed himself and eventually spoke about Good Counsel's 14-0 start on just three offensive plays.
“It was maybe one of the best moments of my life,” Strittmatter said. “So much doubting on the offense, especially on all the new starters. Nobody thought we had the firepower.
“I felt like this was our game.”
Good Counsel coach Bob Milloy declined comment as he left Johnny Unitas Stadium at Towson University, which hosted the ESPNews-televised game.
Good Counsel's fortunes began to turn midway through the first half, when Ekwoge suffered a left-knee injury that kept him out the rest of contest. Ekwoge said he plans to get an MRI as soon as possible.
“If I was in, I thought we would have won the game, because they couldn't stop our rushing offense,” said Ekwoge, who ran for 72 yards on five carries. “We were just clicking on all cylinders.”
Perry Stefanelli ran for 90 yards on 21 carries in relief, and fullback Chris Dawson took a larger load with Ekwoge out, running 15 times for 55 yards.
With an effective defense led by defensive end Jesse Anniebonam — whose commitment to the University of Maryland, College Park, was announced during the game — that was enough to keep Good Counsel ahead most of the night.
But eventually, Good Counsel could no longer contain Gilman quarterback Kai Locksley, who threw for 128 yards and ran for 100.
After Gilman scored its final touchdown with 4:46 left, Carroll returned the kickoff 32 yards to start Good Counsel's final drive.
Thanks to Strittmatter's 18-yard completion to Myles Robinson on a fourth-and-10, Good Counsel reached the 10-yard line inside the final minute.
Stefanelli ran for 3 yards on first down, and Strittmatter spiked the ball on second down. On third down, Strittmatter ran for a yard on an option play. Fourth down repeated the same play, but Strittmatter pitched to Stefanelli, and Gilman sniffed out the run and won the game.
Still, Good Counsel covered a lot of ground in the final minutes and, after suffering significant losses to graduation, proved it could hang with one of the state's top teams
“I was very proud of the offense with the drive they just did,” Ekwoge said. “Even though we lost the game, they showed a lot.”
Gilman 20, Good Counsel 14
Good Counsel (0-1) 14 0 0 0 — 14
Gilman (1-0) 6 6 0 8 — 20
GC — Eric Grimm 20 pass from Bryan Strittmatter (Bryan Strittmatter kick)
GC — Leo Ekwoge 53 run (Bryan Strittmatter kick)
G — Kai Locksley 4 run (kick failed)
G — Jelani Roberts 60 punt return (pass failed)
G — John Fitzgerald 16 from Kasim Hill (Kai Locksley)
Good Counsel — Perry Stefanelli 21-90, Leo Ekwoge 5-72, Chris Dawson 15-55, Bryan Strittmatter 6-29, C.J. Carroll 1-6.
Gilman — Kai Locksley 16-100, Bijan Rhett 5-19, Antonio Dupree 3-6, Robert Branch 1-5, Jelani Roberts 8-3, Troy Vincent Jr. 1-1, Kasim Hill 1-(-1).
Good Counsel — Bryan Strittmatter 6-15-69-2.
Gilman — Kai Locksley 9-15-128-0, Kasim Hill 1-2-16-0.
Good Counsel — Myles Robinson 2-27; Eric Grimm 1-20; Chris Dawson 1-13; Keon Paye 1-6; C.J. Carroll 1-3.
Gilman — Robert Branch 3-56, John Fitzgerald 3-54, Chase Campbell 1-17, Jelani Roberts 2-16, Antonio Dupree 1-1.