Gladiators outlast Howard for Elgard Trophy; Owens leads way

by James Peters

Special to VSN

Glenelg High football team arrived at Howard with the coveted Elgard Trophy in its possession for its 60th meeting with the host Lions. 

Following a thrilling late comeback and an overall scintillating performance by junior quarterback Bisi Owens, the Gladiators left the home of the Lions with that same bronze bull in tow that is named after the last three letters of each school, which were established in the 1950s. It’s the third straight victory for Glenelg in the series. 

Trailing 21-20 with 12.7 seconds left in the  fourth quarter, Owens capped an 11-play, 82-yard drive with the game-winning 5-yard touchdown run, a quarterback draw up the middle for his third rushing scoring run of the game, for a 26-21 victory and a 2-0 start to the shortened spring season.

“The coaches told me,`Hey, this is your team now,’” said Owens, who is from a long line of talented athletes, including brother Wande Owens, a Yale University sophomore running back who finished his Glenelg career with 6,361 career rushing yards and 82 touchdowns. “I’ve got to bring the confidence in and get the line ready and the receivers ready. We took advantage of what they gave us; they gave us some of the short routes, we took advantage of it, and we drove down the field.

“It’s an amazing feeling. My brother had some crazy, historic games, Elgard. It’s really an amazing feeling to come out and get this victory tonight.” 

Owens accounted for all four of his team’s touchdowns, including a 67-yard touchdown strike in the second quarter. He finished with 77 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 16 carries and passed for 153 yards and the one score on six completions.

“It runs in the family,” Gladiators coach Tim Cullen said. “He comes from a long line of studs. Great parents, great family. He’s just top notch (including a) 4.7 GPA. He’s off the charts as a person and as an athlete. He’s phenomenal.”

After a scoreless, defensive-dominated first quarter, Howard (3-1) opened up a 6-0 lead on a 73-yard swing pass from Kyle Colbert (210 passing yards) to Curtis Eley (115 receiving yards, three total touchdowns) with 10:49 left in the half. The extra point failed.

Colbert lofted the ball just over the defensive line to Eley, who used a key block from Alex Rebaza to spring him down the Glenelg sideline for the score.

“Curtis Eley, he is the most electrifying player I’ve coached in my 28 years,” Howard coach Ross Hannon said. “He’s just a different football player.”

The Gladiators answered with 20 consecutive points, starting with the 67-yard scoring strike from Owens to Robbie Tolbert (91 receiving yards) on a pass that was just high enough to reach Tolbert over his defender’s grasp with 9:22 remaining in the second quarter.

“It was a rollout pass to the left and the routes underneath were covered and I have 100 percent trust in my man Robbie, a great receiver,” Owens said. “I saw he had one-on-one coverage, so I let it fly. I took a hit, but it doesn’t matter.”

That lead grew to 14-6 roughly three minutes later on a 10-yard keeper by Owens, who set up that scoring scamper with a 44-yard hook up with an open Liam Hayden.

Owens reached the end zone again with 28 seconds left in the half on a yard sneak following a 25-yard interception return by Owens. The extra point was blocked.

Eley cut the deficit to 20-14 on a 4-yard touchdown run with about 6 ½ minutes left in the third quarter as he took an inside handoff, but bounced it outside and then outraced the defense to the end zone. He then carried an option pitch to the left side of the end zone for the 2-point conversion. The short, two-play drive was set up by an errant punt of 16 yards by Glenelg.

Eley struck again with about six minutes left in the game on a 3-yard run on a play that he looked stuffed at the line for a loss. Instead, Eley shook off a defender and then raced around the right end for the score and a 21-20 lead following the extra point. The first extra point attempt was blocked, but Glenelg was called for a personal foul for hitting the center. The next attempt sailed through the uprights for the lead.

“I really did just a terrible job managing the final couple of minutes,” Hannon said. “The kids played so hard, played well enough to win the game. We just didn’t make the critical first down we needed to run the clock out and then we got conservative on the back end (of the defense during Glenelg’s final drive). They hit a couple of big plays against us for scores. It seemed like anything that could have gone wrong did in that last series.”

That pivotal offensive drive for the Lions that began with 2:57 left in the game included a pair of penalties (false start and delay of game) and left the Gladiators, whose first two games were canceled due to issues with COVID-19, with just over two minutes for its game-winning drive.

With time running out, Owens rushed for nine yards and then passed for another nine yards to set up the winning touchdown that saw the Glenelg offensive line lead Owens into the end zone on a quarterback keeper.

“We were going to run the field goal team out there, but we saw an opportunity, so we took it,” said Cullen, whose squad ended the contest with an interception by Trisden Bovello.