On a blustery afternoon with temperatures that were below 40 degrees all day, there was no reason to suspect that a pass would help decide Saturday's Class 5A Public League  championship game at Northeast.

Then again, there was also no reason to suspect that Gratz could earn a title after losing its first five games this season.

But it did.

The Bulldogs and visiting Martin Luther King battled mostly on the ground for four quarters because the wind devoured almost anything airborne.
Late in the game, however, junior quarterback Rodniel Passapera hit senior Jordan Mariney on a 15-yard skinny post on a fourth down that helped the Bulldogs prevail, 14-6.

"You guys just keep getting off the mat," Gratz coach Erik Zipay told his Bulldogs. "That's impressive."

The win earned a fourth consecutive championship for Gratz, which is led by Zipay, who, in his 13th season, is the first Public League coach to win four titles in a row since 1909, according to records on TedSilary.com.

Germantown won four straight titles from 1923-26. Coach Fred Miller won the first two, while Harry Davison earned the others.

Passapera, who played at Olney last season, was named the game's most valuable player.

With about four minutes remaining and Gratz (6-5) facing a fourth-and-1, Passapera whipped a pass through the wind to Mariney, who was spotted at the 1-yard line.

Two plays later, Passapera plunged in from a yard out, adding to his first-quarter touchdown that helped yield the Bulldogs an 8-6 edge at halftime.  Passapera finished 9-of-16 for 102 passing yards. He also scored two rushing touchdowns.

"This is kind of big to me because we started the season 0-5," Passapera said. "And everybody doubted me, saying I wasn't good enough to compete with the next level, and today I had to bring it out."

Gratz coach Erik Zipay (left) and quarterback Rodniel Passapera.
AARON CARTER / Staff
Gratz coach Erik Zipay (left) and quarterback Rodniel Passapera.

King was led by junior running back Robert Laurie-Clark, who scored from 60 yards out on the Cougars' first possession.

A late fumble by the Cougars, however, gave Gratz control for good at its own 8-yard line with 2 minutes, 5 seconds left.

Gratz     8    0    0    6  —  14
King     6     0    0    0  —    6

G: Rodniel Passapera 1 run. Quadir Robinson run.

K: Robert Laurie-Clark 60 run. Run failed.

G: Passapera 1 run. Run failed.