McDonogh quarterback Joe Benson, The Sun's 2000 All-Metro Offensive Player of the Year, will play his last organized football game Saturday against visiting Gilman.
And it will be no ordinary game.
"It's probably the biggest game I'll play in at McDonogh, even compared to lacrosse, because of the publicity football gets around here," said Benson, who chose Division I lacrosse over football last month, accepting a scholarship from Johns Hopkins. "In football, it just doesn't get much bigger than McDonogh-Gilman. The fact that this is my last game, I don't want to think about that yet. I just want to get out there and do my best,"
On the line for top-ranked McDonogh is a 19-game winning streak and the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference title. The Eagles are 9-0 overall and 3-0 in the league. No. 13 Gilman (5-4, 2-1), the three-time defending champ, leads the series, 50-30-5.
"I've been running through plays in my mind, but I haven't really played out the end of the game in my mind. If it's as exciting as last year's game, I don't know if my heart will be able to take it," said Benson, who has completed 70 percent of his passes this season for 1,290 yards and 14 touchdowns, and rushed for 903 yards and seven touchdowns.
Benson, 6 feet 5 and 210 pounds, recalls last year's 7-0 victory over the Greyhounds, when the tables were reversed: Gilman was at home, defending its 17-game winning streak against Baltimore area teams.
He remembers throwing the game-winning touchdown pass to Ryan Meehan. The toss, after a three-step drop, was delivered with near-perfect touch to the left corner of the end zone, where Meehan out-leaped a defender.
Benson also recalls the hit he made on the ensuing kickoff, one that flattened the Gilman return man.
Benson is trying to bury thoughts about having given up the chance to play college football. Despite interest from a number of top-tier Division I football programs, he ended the suspense early last month by committing to a scholarship to play Division I lacrosse at Johns Hopkins, where his brother, Bobby, is a senior.
The Blue Jays offer Division III football, but NCAA rules prohibit Division I scholarship athletes from playing a Division III sport at the same school.
"It was hard to do, but I've loved lacrosse ever since I was like 2, and I knew that was the sport I'd want to play in college," said Benson. "I didn't really start playing football until seventh grade, but I love it and I'll miss it."
There are some who still think Benson should reconsider.
"You hear it from the referees, you hear it from your friends," Benson said. "Even my aunt, she's always telling me that it would be neat if she could turn on the television Saturday afternoons and see me playing."
Benson added: "Sometimes, watching big-time college games, you think, `Wow, that'd be a thrill.' But I got the same thrill watching my brother play in the NCAA tournament. That's been a goal of mine since I was little."