Raphael Wall and Ricky Rowe now can say they have gone out in style twice.
Wall and Rowe spent their last three football seasons together at Wilde Lake High School, where they laid a foundation for success that culminated eight months ago. That night, Wall ran four yards for a touchdown in overtime, pushing the Wildecats past Damascus for their second state championship in six years and the only undefeated season in school history.
Wall and Rowe graduated from Wilde Lake two months ago. Saturday,they had one last dance in a memorable encore.
They were part of the Maryland team that defeated Pennsylvania, 17-9, in the Big 33 Football Classic before 18,552 fans at Hersheypark Stadium in Hershey, Pa. The game featured the top 33 players from each state.
And on top of that, Doug DuVall, the 20-year coach at Wilde Lake who watched Wall and Rowe mature into Division I college recruits, got to work with them one last time as the head coach of the Maryland team.
"They(Wall and Rowe) represented us well. They did a great job," said DuVall, his voice reduced to a hoarse whisper during the hourlong, post-game celebration on the field. Among the people who congratulated DuVall was Washington Redskins head coach Joe Gibbs, whose son, Coy, waspart of the Maryland team.
"It's always tough to say goodbye," DuVall added. "I'll miss those kids. They came in, they made a commitment to play football and do their schoolwork, and now one (Rowe) is going to Penn State and the other (Wall) is going to the University of Maryland to get five years of great education."
Maryland's victory, only its second in seven tries over Pennsylvania, created a party atmosphere on the field. DuVall passed out cigars to friends and assistant coaches as family members, friends, former coaches and, most conspicuously, hordes of autograph-seekers kept the players busy.
Between the stadium atmosphere, the hype surrounding the game and the reality that every player is headed to college on a football scholarship, an unmistakable feeling of "big time" was in the air.
"There's nothing like it," said Wall, who rushed for 1,546 yards to lead WildeLake to the state title in his senior year. "It's been hard work, but I've also made a lot of friends this week. I've been here with a lot of great players. We were like a family from the beginning."
Wall had never signed an autograph before Big 33 week. But as the players made their way around the community after two-a-day workouts -- they visited cerebral palsy victims in local hospitals and went to Hersheypark -- admirers hit them up for signatures. They were mobbed at Hersheypark.
"Hype like you would not believe" is how Rowe describedthe situation while signing an autograph after the game. "When we went to Hersheypark, everybody wanted a handshake or an autograph. It was something special."
Rowe, who led Wilde Lake's terrific defensefrom the strong safety position in his last two years, had a busy game Saturday. He made two solo tackles, had eight assists and batted away two passes.
Wall was a minor factor. He rushed once for four yards and caught one pass for three yards. In the second quarter, he caught a screen pass from quarterback Matt Byrne (Damascus High, Montgomery County) and raced downfield for a 25-yard gain. But the play was nullified because of a clipping penalty.
Both defenses set the tone. The game was bogged down in a scoreless tie at halftime, as Maryland and Pennsylvania had combined for just eight first downs. Maryland broke on top with 1:35 left in the third period on a 27-yard fieldgoal by David DeArmas (DeMatha, Prince George's County) then made it10-0 early in the fourth quarter when Byrne hit Asim Penny (Bishop McNamara, Prince George's County) with a 21-yard touchdown pass.
After Pennsylvania closed to within 10-3 midway through the quarter, Maryland put the game away when defensive back Russell Thomas (Oxon Hill, Prince George's County) returned an interception 85 yards for a touchdown with 1:38 left in the game.
"Their backs were so good, their offense was so powerful," said Rowe, who missed several tackles early in the game by misjudging the speed of the Pennsylvania running backs. He also battled two pulled groin muscles. Pennsylvania out-gained Maryland on the ground, 143-51.
Rowe then looked at Wall, who was signing an autograph next to him. His mind traveled back to the days when the two led Wilde Lake to glory, and forward to the days theymight meet again on the field as opponents.
"That's one of the guys I'll miss the most," Rowe said. "I'll miss Raphael running up and down the sidelines, I swear I will. I just hope he never burns me in college."