By Eva Paspalis
GAITHERSBURG — If you ask Quince Orchard running back Marquez Cooper what makes him so successful on the field, chances are he’ll tell you it’s his offensive line.
Friday, fresh off a 42-10 playoff victory against the Richard Montgomery Rockets in the 4A West Regional semifinals, Cooper gathered his offensive linemen around him in a semicircle with their arms around each other. The junior had just shredded the Richard Montgomery defense for over 150 yards on the ground and four touchdowns in the first half.
“They’re blocking, and I run behind them,” said Cooper, gesturing to the group of boys around him. “These are the dudes that give me my yards, and I appreciate everything that they do for me.”
Cooper exited the game early in the third quarter, but his impressive first-half performance set the tone for the rest of the evening. Even though the two squads played at John Harvill Stadium at Gaithersburg High School, since the Cougar Dome’s field was deemed unfit, Quince Orchard was still considered the home team as the number one seed.
The Cougar defense managed to contain Richard Montgomery running back T’Kai Ayoola and kept the junior out of the end zone, something uncharacteristic for Ayoola and his powerful running style. In fact, Quince Orchard made sure the Rockets offense didn’t spend a lot of time on the field. Richard Montgomery senior quarterback Michael Braswell tried to make plays with his legs but was swallowed up by the Cougar defense before he could earn more than a few yards.
After Quince Orchard head coach John Kelley took Cooper out of the game, fullback Ryan Jones, running back Jeremiah White and receiver Chris Webb led the charge. The Quince Orchard offensive line created another big hole, and White dashed through it for a three-yard score that launched the running clock in the third quarter.
However, the Rockets weren’t ready to go away quietly. Braswell’s tenacity finally paid off, and the senior ran for a 12-yard score that stopped the running clock and ended up being Richard Montgomery’s only touchdown of the night.
Rockets head coach Josh Klotz commended his team for overcoming a slow start to their season and still making it to the playoffs.
“I don’t know how many football teams can come back from an 0-2 start and string together seven wins in eight games,” said Klotz. “I think that speaks to the leadership of our seniors, the commitment they have to each other, their character and the inner fight that they have.”
While the Cougars were making a statement against Richard Montgomery, elsewhere in the county, the third-seeded Northwest Jaguars were making a 56-20 statement of their own against the second-seeded Churchill Bulldogs. Next week, for the sixth time in seven years, the Cougars and the Jaguars are going head to head in the regional championship. The Cougars were victorious when the two teams met in the regular season; the Jaguars beat Quince Orchard three times in a row in the regional championship game in 2013, 2014 and 2015.
“It’s a rivalry game, so you’re playing a championship game against your rival, which is awesome” said Kelley. “Everybody is going to say QO is the favorite, but we’re not. They’ve beaten us three years in that game so we want to come out and start at 0-0. The first time we played them means nothing.”
“They’re our nemesis,” said offensive lineman Thomas DeCastro as Cooper and the rest of the offensive line nodded in agreement. “They always come in here thinking they’re going to win, even though we already beat them.”
Barring any setbacks with the field’s condition at the Cougar Dome, Quince Orchard will take on its arch-rival Northwest at its true home field.