There wasn’t any belief outside the Severna Park locker room, but inside there was more than enough to pull off the stunner of the 2018 football season.
The Falcons went to Old Mill on September 21, bringing with them three hours of near-perfect execution and the wherewithal to overcome a fourth-quarter deficit to shock the host Patriots and win, 28-21.
Jordan Hallet threw for 219 yards and four touchdowns, and Garrett Edwards caught touchdown passes of 80 and 30 yards in the fourth quarter as Severna Park got its first win over Old Mill since a 2008 playoff victory and first in the regular season since 2006.
“Our players have been waiting a long time to get one like this,” said fourth-year head coach Will Bell. “It’s a product of the work they put into things so far this season. It was a game that we felt good about, but we also knew that we had to play one of our very best games to make it a possibility.”
The Falcons delivered. Severna Park committed zero turnovers and only three penalties, combining a team-wide defensive effort that shut out the Patriots in the first and fourth quarters with opportunistic playmaking and a start-to-finish belief they could win the game.
“We had that mindset and belief going into it,” said Bell. “We played a really clean game, and we challenged our kids to play four full quarters, and I think they finally put that together.”
It helped to get out to an early lead. Hallet completed a Falcon drive in the first quarter with a 16-yard touchdown pass to Logan Harris, and Travis Victorio hit his first of four extra points on the day to give Severna Park a 7-0 lead.
In front of a home crowd, the Patriots responded with two touchdowns in the second quarter to take a 14-7 lead, and no one off the sidelines would have been surprised to see Old Mill stretch it out for a win.
Except the Falcons didn’t waver. Hallet hit Jeremiah Jennings for a 24-yard touchdown to make it a 14-14 game by halftime. Jennings had three catches for 54 yards and a touchdown.
Again Old Mill went ahead, scoring to go up 21-14 in the third quarter and carrying the lead into the fourth.
Severna Park’s resilience was never in question despite trailing in the fourth quarter.
“We told our kids all week, ‘Don’t flinch, believe, have faith in what we’re doing,’” said Bell. “We told our team at halftime, ‘We’re going to win this game.’”
The Falcons saw an opening in mismatches on the outside through Jennings and Edwards. Edwards tied the game 21-21 by making a catch on a seam route and running 80 yards for a touchdown. After the Falcon defense made a stop, Hallet again found Edwards on a similar seam-and-hitch for a 30-yard score and a 28-21 lead.
“The first one, everyone did their job, and it set me up for a perfect alley,” said Edwards, who had three catches for 137 yards. “I had blockers with me all the way to the end zone, and if it wasn’t for them I probably would have gotten caught because I’m not that fast. The second one, Coach Bell saw something, he trusted me, told Jordan to throw me the ball, and we just came out with a big play, everyone did their job, and we executed it perfectly.”
Bell said of Jennings and Edwards, “They kind of took the game over in the fourth quarter.”
Old Mill raced against the clock to make it down to the red zone, but their fourth-down running attempt was snuffed out by a horde of Falcon tacklers as time expired, cementing a Severna Park win.
“Our front seven was just tremendous,” said Bell of the defense. “You could tell by the way the kids finished the game, there was about seven hats on the football that last play. It wasn’t a solo tackle. It was kind of the attitude all game, we’re getting as many hats on the football as we can and we’re going to run into the football. The kids finished just the way they started, and it was nice to see.”
With the JV’s 13-6 victory over the Patriots earlier that afternoon, Severna Park swept the day at Old Mill.
“We couldn’t remember the last time our JV and varsity both went to Old Mill and came out victorious there,” said Bell, “so that was kind of a statement on where our program is going and our attitude.”
Edwards said no one was in a lighthearted mood in the lead-up to the game.
“Everyone had their headphones in, everyone was focused, even on the bus no one was talking,” said Edwards. “It was strictly business. We went out there and did what we had to do.”
Just 1-9 last season, the Falcons are now 2-2 with a signature win inspiring further confidence.
“We really wanted this, the seniors especially, because of our season last year,” said Edwards. “To get another win and to see what we’re capable of is amazing. This one was definitely one that we can look forward and know what we’re capable of.”
--Bolstered by the returns of Patrick Fenn and Trevor Dearborn, who had missed the first three games of the season with injuries, the Severna Park defense enjoyed a more full roster against Old Mill. Fenn had four solo tackles and 13 assisted tackles. Wylen Tompkins led the Falcons with six solo tackles and 10 assisted tackles, including two tackles for losses. Jake Cooley (three solo, six assisted), Ben Morgan (two solo, five assisted), Gerard Green (two solo, two assisted), Corey Bodnar (two solo, one assisted), Tristan Halloran (one solo, six assisted) Mikey Harmeyer (one solo, four assisted), Eli Hill (one solo, three assisted) Matt Simms, Peyton Brack, Cameron Bear, Jennings, Dearborn, Ty Broadway and Austin Persico all made defensive contributions. The Falcons forced two fumbles and recovered both.
-- Demetrius Powell rushed nine times for 29 yards, and Deon Dorsey ran six times for 26 yards to complement the Falcons’ air attack. Tompkins had kickoff returns of 26 and 24 yards, and Powell had a 29-yard kickoff return.
-- Bell said the staff realized they needed to provide more direction to the players on their pregame routine. The Falcons had previously been rowdily hyping each other up before games, but this week they conserved energy by resting, staying off their feet in the locker room and quietly focusing on the task ahead.
The players immediately took to the change.
“From a game-prep standpoint, we sat the kids down and told them we were doing it wrong,” said Bell. “Before the game, they’d be jumping around, wasting a ton of energy. We broke it down with them of what our expectations were. When you have down time, you’re laying down, you’re off your feet. …I knew something special was going to happen. I walked in [the locker room] an hour and twenty minutes before we were getting on the bus, and you could have heard a pin drop. Kids were laying down, eyes closed, listening to music. It was like that the entire time, boarding the bus, did not even have to tell kids to be quiet. They did it on their own, and it was just a completely different attitude, and they ran with it.”
-- Bell noted the play of Jennings and Edwards that gave Severna Park a matchup advantage on the outside, saying they capitalized by making great catches in pressure situations.
“[Jeremiah and Garrett] made some of the bigger catches I’ve seen since I’ve been here,” said Bell. “That was really awesome to see.”
-- At 2-2, the Falcons have been in every game this year. After defeating North County in week one, Severna Park came out flat in a disjointed, interrupted game against Chesapeake in week two, a contest in which neither side played particularly well.
Severna Park got in an early hole in week three against rival Broadneck, but they outscored the Bruins 14-7 in the second half in a 34-17 loss.
“We’ve felt confident every single week this season with the group of kids we have,” said Bell. “Our losses have not come because we’re not good enough. We have a lot of work to do, and we still do.”
The Falcons carried their strong play in the second half against Broadneck into Friday’s win over Old Mill.
“The rival loss last week was definitely tough on us, but we worked hard at practice all week and tuned in,” said Hallet. “We geared it up this week and came out ready to fight.”
-- Bell stressed the impact of his coaching staff. Assistant coaches Merlin Means, Jon DeSantos, Tom Chroniger, Nick Marks and Andrew Gardner have been invaluable to the program and were major reasons the Falcons were able to defeat Old Mill.
“The staff is a huge credit,” said Bell. “They’re tremendous. The amount of hours they put in behind the scenes, they’re awesome.”
Anna Grace Keller contributed reporting to this article.