SILVER SPRING – The Damascus varsity football team (10-0) won its fifth division title in a row on Friday, defeating Blair 35-27 at Blazer Stadium during a game uncharacteristic of typical Swarmin’ Hornets football.
The scrappy Blazer offense (8-2) outscored all of Damascus’ previous opponents this season and the defense kept the Hornets out of the end zone for the entire second half.
For a defending state champion team that has outscored its opponents 462-105 this season, Friday’s victory is nothing to be proud of, according to Damascus Head Coach Eric Wallich.
“We just played terribly. We had so many mistakes,” said Wallich. “You’ve got to give a lot of credit to [Blair] but I think it’s more about how we played. We had a chance to put them away at the beginning and we let them get momentum.”
However, Blair Head Coach Andrew Fields said his team’s distinction of being Damascus’ highest scoring opponent isn’t a consolation for the loss.
“We could have lost by 70 or lost by seven, it’s still a loss,” he said. “Nobody cares how much you lose by. Our guys play with heart but the problem is we have to play smarter.”
Blazers senior wide receiver Clifford Carter earned 155 yards and one touchdown in his last regular season high school game.
Damascus senior running back and Richmond commit Markus Vinson ran for 165 yards and two touchdowns in the first half.
Vinson’s ground-and-pound attack was conspicuous in its absence during the second half’s defensive battle as both teams struggled to move the ball.
The Hornets jumped out to an early lead behind running back Elijah Atkins. The senior dashed into the paint from six yards out for the first of his two touchdowns.
The Blazers seemed unfazed by Damascus’ tradition of piling on touchdowns and overwhelming opponents early on.
Senior safety Kasim Brown intercepted Hornets senior quarterback Wade Rippeon to return the ball to Blair.
The Blazers converted a fourth-and-goal a few minutes later when senior quarterback Desmond Colby handed off to senior running back Eric Zokouri.
Zokouri ran to his right and found Carter in the end zone for a three-yard touchdown.
Sophomore kicker Ricky Morri’s extra point attempt hit the left upright and marked Morri’s seventh missed point of the season.
Damascus senior running back Cedric Cole skirted around Blair defenders for a 19-yard touchdown to extend the lead.
The Blazers didn’t seem to care.
Colby set up shop at the five-yard line after a 20-yard Zokouri run and a Damascus penalty set up first-and-goal.
Senior wide receiver Chris Butler caught Colby’s pass in the end zone for his only score of the night.
Blazers Coach Fields called for the two-point conversion, leading to senior receiver Bradley Dayhoff bursting through the middle of the Damascus defense to tack on two points and tie the game.
Vinson broke loose on the Hornets’ next possession and sped down the left sideline for his first touchdown.
Dayhoff tied the game again when he swerved through Hornets defenders on his way to a 14-yard score.
The perennially victorious Hornets found themselves tied for the second time with a team that’s never won a state title in school history.
Vinson served as the tiebreaker again when he caught Rippeon’s long pass and turned on turbo speed down the left sideline for another score.
Atkins became the last Hornet to find the end zone when he capped off the end of the first half with his second six-yard touchdown run.
The Blair defense forced rare three-and-outs for Damascus in the second half.
Blazers junior receiver Enoch Owumi stood in the corner of the end zone and leaped into the air to catch Colby’s pass to pull Blair within eight points with just nine seconds left.
Morri’s extra point attempt was blocked. It was too little, too late for the Blazers.
The loss earns Blair the fourth seed in the playoffs with potential opponent Quince Orchard (9-1) looming in the near future.
Carter said he welcomes the challenge.
“Hopefully we get QO in the first round so we can get revenge from last year,” he said. “We lost up at QO last year so hopefully we can get them back this year.”
Wallich said that his first-seeded Hornets will have to improve their game if they want to earn a deep postseason run.
“That was one of the worst games we’ve played all year,” he said. “We’re going to be done pretty quickly if we don’t get better.”