BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Dundalk High School and Mervo High School will compete against each other in the 4A/3A State Championship Football game Thursday.

It’s Mervo High School’s first time in the championship, and it is a way for the team to honor a team member who passed away this season.

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“We’re making history and we’re doing it for a bigger purpose,” Mervo High School football middle linebacker and team captain Sterling Thomas said. “More than just football.”

This season is unlike any other for the team.

“It took a lot of hard work and perseverance,” Thomas said. “We went through a lot this year.”

They will be doing it without one of their teammates, Elijah Gorham. He suffered a traumatic brain injury during a game in September. He passed away the following month.

“Through adversity, oftentimes, people come closer,” Mervo High School Athletic Director Patrick Nixon said. “I think we’ve come a lot closer because of the loss of Elijah.”

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His team said no one loved football more than him.

“He was a big contribution, key to the team,” Thomas said. “Whenever we needed a big play, first down, touchdown, we knew exactly where to go to, number 7. He was just that guy.”

His teammates and his coach channeled their grief into football.

“He would want us to go to states,” Mervo High School football team offensive lineman Jamal Baldwin. “He would want to be here with us. We would want him to be here with us, so we got to get this for him.”

They said every time they play, Elijah is with them, and that he will be right there with them at the championship.

“We made it all this way for you and we ain’t gonna stop until we win,” Thomas said.

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The game between Mervo High School and Dundalk High School is Thursday night at 7 p.m. at the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis.

Jessica Albert