When the high school state football tournament started, Joppatowne was 4-5. Today the Mariners are 8-5 and the Class 1A state champions.
Joppatowne claimed its first state title since 1975 and the fifth overall for Harford County with a 26-6 rout of Beall last night at M&T Bank Stadium.
Beall was appearing in its second straight Class 1A final and its fourth overall but is still looking for its first state football championship.
Beall (10-4) could not hold onto the ball last night, and Joppatowne took advantage of the Mountaineers' mistakes.
Joppatowne junior quarterback Anthony Preston ran for 170 yards and a touchdown on 20 attempts. Mariners senior cornerback Tony Jondo returned a fumble 58 yards for a score in the final minute of the first half to give his team a 12-0 lead, and running back Brent Cash scored the other two touchdowns to finish the season with a team-leading 26.
Joppatowne lost its last two regular-season games and then went on a four-game run to win the state title.
Last night's game started with the two teams trading fumbles twice in the first five minutes before settling down, but Beall's fourth fumble to start the second half ended up giving the Mariners good field position that led to their third score.
"It's incredible what these kids did," said Joppatowne coach Greg Komondor, fighting back tears. "They did everything we asked them to do and even more. I'm the proudest guy, along with the coaching staff."
Komondor, his players, staff, parents and fans especially loved playing at M&T Bank Stadium mainly because of the atmosphere and the top-notch playing turf, but also because of the color purple of the Ravens all over the place.
Like the Ravens, Joppatowne wears purple.
"It was great, the field is beautiful, the stands are beautiful, a lot of purple," said Preston, whose longest run of the night was a 53-yarder to the Beall 12 to set up Cash's second score, which gave the Mariners a 20-0 lead with 5:52 left in the third quarter.
"That was my best offensive game of the year. We knew we could run the ball to the outside on them, and I credit my offensive line for all the yardage I got. After Brent scored that touchdown and ran for the two points, we knew the game was over."
Preston's 1-yard plunge in the first three minutes of the final period made it 26-0. The Mariners lost their bid for a shutout when the Mountaineers' Eric Parker tossed a 12-yard touchdown pass to Zach Leasure with 46 seconds left.
"We won and that's what matters," said junior linebacker Jeremy Navarre.
Beall fumbled 16 times and lost nine in their past two state finals.
"We made too many mistakes, and you can't do that against a team like that," said Beall coach Roy DeVore. "Their quarterback is exceptional, and they wore us down."
In the fumble-filled first half, the Mariners drove 68 yards in nine plays for the team's first score, a 9-yard run by Cash. Preston carried four times for 45 yards on the drive, including a 31-yard scamper to the 9 to set up Cash's touchdown.
The Mariners' fake kick on the conversion resulted in an incomplete pass and a 6-0 lead with 6:21 left before the break.
Joppatowne 12 0 8 6 - 26
Beall 0 0 0 6 - 6
J -- Cash 9 run (pass failed) J -- Jondo 58 fumble return (pass failed) J -- Cash 12 run (Cash run) J -- Preston 1 run (run failed) B -- Leasure 12 pass from Parker (pass failed)