As soon as the final whistle sounded and Riverdale Baptist’s sideline segued from panic to pandemonium, the hunt was on.
Junior Reggie Hills grabbed both handles of an orange Gatorade cooler filled with water (and lots of ice) and zeroed in on his target: Crusaders coach Bob Shields.
With Friday’s temperatures dipping into the mid-30s, it hardly was a night someone would welcome a jug of freezing liquid being dumped on them. Even if that someone was the coach of the first undefeated football team in Riverdale Baptist history.
Shields spotted Hills out of the corner of his eye, giving him just enough time to lead his junior linebacker on a wild goose chase across the Crusaders’ logo at midfield. After seven harrowing seconds, Shields had won as Hills tripped and spilled the water near the 45-yard-line.
“I put a little move on him,” Shields said with a grin. “I’m going to need a little Advil for the back after that.”
For Hills, his coach was about the only person who stepped onto Riverdale Baptist’s pristine turf field that he wasn’t able to catch.
In the backfield with frequency, the 210-pound linebacker helped lead the way in the Crusaders’ 14-6 victory against Perry Street Prep and capture the CAFC President’s Trophy on a frigid night in Upper Marlboro.
A pair of late defensive stops — one following an uncharacteristic fumble by senior running back Justin Baynes (26 carries, 192 yards) with less than two minutes remaining in the fourth quarter — helped define a unit that held the Pride to 86 total yards of offense (44 rushing, 42 passing). The result also marked the seventh time in 11 games that the Crusaders held an opponent to six points or fewer as they won their first championship since 2008.
“When I came here [from Fork Union Military Academy] to the first practice and saw how it went, I knew this was my home,” Hills said. “It was a team effort the whole way forward.”
Two plays, in particular, were indicative of the Crusaders’ defensive dominance. With the Pride driving midway through the third quarter, senior Devin Wilkerson and senior Nate Morris combined to drive Perry Street Prep quarterback Kentrell Hill-Gay back 16 yards. On the next play, Hills burst through the line of scrimmage and sacked Hill-Gay for a 4-yard loss that left the QB slow to get up.
“They came out and they had a couple of good plays right before that, so we knew we just needed to do something to get us back in the game, get the momentum back on our side,” Hills said.
Baynes, meanwhile, opened the night in style. On his third carry of the game, he broke to the near sideline and sprinted 32 yards for a touchdown. His ability to shed tackles, stay low to the ground and keep his balance was uncanny not only Friday but all season as he finished with 1,397 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns on 140 carries. Baynes’ late fumble, however, was one of five turnovers by the Crusaders on a night where the cold made it difficult for either team to hold onto the ball.
“All of this is because we came together as a group and just tuned in to what [the coaches] had to say to us,” Baynes said. “All I can say is I love my team.”
Though Riverdale Baptist didn’t end up needing it, junior quarterback Amir Hall found junior receiver Jaison Young for a 3-yard touchdown catch late in the second half to add some insurance. Perry Street’s only score came three minutes earlier when Morris Ray Jr. plunged into the end zone from four yards out following two sensational catches on the same drive.
The defense — which shut out Perry Street during the regular season, 12-0 — took it from there.
“The defense was unbelievable,” Shields said. “We just will not let anybody score on us. And they’ve been that way all year.”
Despite the unblemished record and outscoring opponents 353-111, the Crusaders were tested this year. And not just by the opposition. Midway through the season the school’s security guard, who was very close with the football team, passed away. Another coach fell ill late in the year but attended Friday’s game. Shields’ wife has been in the hospital for a month and multiple players are recovering from serious injuries like broken legs and displaced hips.
But none of that seemed to matter (or, perhaps, mattered the most) as Riverdale Baptist’s players danced in circles around the trophy or jockeyed for front-row position while facing a hoard of photographers.
“This resilient group of kids and coaches just would not stop,” Shields said. “To know that we’ve made history here at Riverdale, the only undefeated championship team in the 30-something years this school has been here, it’s a testament to what I always say is the best coaching staff in the state of Maryland.
“These kids will remember this moment for the rest of their life.”
Riverdale Baptist 14, Perry Street Prep 6
CACF Championship — President’s Cup
Perry Street Prep (7-4) 0 6 0 0 — 6
Riverdale Baptist (11-0) 7 7 0 0 — 14
RDB — Justin Baynes 32 run (Jeremiah McBride kick), 9:31, 7-0
PSP — Morris Ray Jr. 4 run (pass failed), 3:55, 7-6
RDB — Jaison Young 3 pass from Amir Hall (Jeremiah McBride kick), 0:33, 14-6
Perry Street Prep — Keenan Westry 8-31, Morris Ray Jr. 12-25, Jihad Khabir 1-1, Kentrell Hill-Gay 6-(-13)
Riverdale Baptist — Justin Baynes 26-192, Aaron Speight 6-38, Reggie Harris 3-13, Devin Steele 4-(-12), Amir Hall 10-(-50)
Perry Street Prep — Kentrell Hill-Gay 4-16-42-0, Jihad Khabir 0-1-0-0
Riverdale Baptist — Amir Hall 3-8-27-2
Perry Street Prep — Morris Ray Jr. 2-32, Jihad Khabir 1-9, Sean Fields 1-1
Riverdale Baptist — Jaison Young 2-16, Reggie Harris 1-11