Poly High’s decisive scoring drive against City College Saturday may not go down as one of the greatest moments in the classic rivalry.

But for Gabriel Ali-El, he’ll surely remember it for the rest of his life.

The senior scored on a 25-yard pass from quarterback Darrell Milburn on fourth down in the fourth quarter, giving the Engineers a 14-6 decision over the Knights at M&T Bank Stadium.

It’s third straight victory in the series for the Engineers (7-3 overall, 6-2 Baltimore City Division I), who lead 62-54 with six ties. It also kept their faint postseason hopes alive.

Poly’s aspirations ended late Saturday afternoon with Catonsville’s 39-6 victory over Towson, giving the Comets the final spot in the Class 3A North Region playoffs.

But as the Engineers celebrated on the field and locker room afterwards, it felt like they won a state championship.

“It’s history, it’s tradition,” Poly junior defensive back/receiver Donovan Riley said. “This is going down as the biggest game I played in my life.”

“This means everything,” said Ali-El inside the Engineers’ locker room. “The tradition and the players who played before me, I had to perform for everybody.”

With Engineers confronted with a fourth-and-19, the burly running back lined up as a receiver on the right side. He went left uncovered across the middle, gathered in Milburn’s pass, turned upfield and went into the end zone, completing a 19-play, 92-yard drive.

“I dropped a ball earlier and I was fretting about it and Coach Wrenn said I would be able to redeem myself later,” said Ali-El. “All I keep thinking was ‘catch the ball.’

“Coach Wrenn trusted us in our offense and offensive line and told us to run trips right verticals,” said Milburn, a junior who completed nine of 17 for 120 yards. “I found Ali-El out the left corner of my eye wide open. I just put it up there for him and let him make play.”

Ali-El came up with two more critical plays during the drive that ate up 10 minutes. On fourth-and-one from Poly’s 35, he surged for a two-yard gain. With at the ball at City’s 16, Milburn’s option pitch to Ali-El went a little wide, but he was able to fall back on it.

After missing a scoring chance in the first half, Poly figured it had to be aggressive against City’s defense. The Engineers’ other score came on a fourth-and-3 with Brandon Owens catching a Milburn pass in the flat and going into the end zone for 24-yard touchdown.

“We just had to get a couple of yards at a time, pulled all our hard count and trick plays out,” said Wrenn. “We had to hold our formations just to move the ball against them. It shows a lot of poise on the part of an offense to not sustain a penalty in that time and keep moving the sticks. We knew the game on the line on that drive.”

 Poly’s defense forced a three-and-out before City (7-3, 5-3 Division I)  got one final possession with 1 minute, 35 seconds. Starting from their 4, the Knights was able to get their 28 before Steffin Wilkens pass was intercepted by Jamal Chappell, who returned the ball and elapsed the final 15 seconds.

Poly football teamCity ate up 60 yards en route to scoring on the game’s first possession, but managed 76 the rest of the way. Junior linebacker Jonathan Melton led the Engineers with 11 tackles and Stacy Stovall added nine. Owens, a junior, also had nine tackles, filling in for injured Wilfred Deshield-Lynch (knee), the Engineers’ leading tackler.

“Three of our best players were on the sidelines,” said Wrenn, who was also without starters Greg Jones (safety) and Dexter Daxis (running back). “Some of our younger kids rose to the occasion.”

“We couldn’t get the ball back,” said City coach George Petrides, whose team had possession for just under seven minutes in the second half. “The defense played well, held them to two touchdowns but couldn’t get any three and outs.”

Asked if he remembers a 90-yard plus drive deciding a City-Poly game, Petrides, who coached his 36th contest joked, “I’m sure Augie Waibel [legendary Poly coach] a couple of those against me.”

The Knights turn their attention to the Class 2A state North Region playoffs where they will play Douglass in the opening round at Poly’s Lumsden-Scott Stadium either Friday evening or Saturday afternoon.

After a 4-0 start and ranked No. 7 in the VSN’s Top 20, Poly will be home for the postseason.

But with a smile on its face.

“This trumps everything else. You can be 9-1, but if lose this one, it makes a good season,” said Wrenn. “But if you’re 5-5 and you win this one, you had a great season. It’s the real deal.”

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Click here to view more photos, courtesy of Dewain Clark