GAITHERSBURG – Marquez Cooper had never played football against Damascus High School before.
Quince Orchard High School’s senior running back was just a freshman the last time the two teams played against each other in 2016. Quince Orchard’s last victory against Damascus was in 2013. The Swarmin’ Hornets had beaten the Cougars three times in a row, but that streak came to an end on Sept. 13 in front of a packed house at the Cougar Dome.
Cooper rumbled for three touchdowns and 172 yards to give Quince Orchard the 21-7 victory over the 0-2 Swarmin’ Hornets. The Kent State commit did not just help his team beat Damascus, though; Cooper etched his name in Quince Orchard’s history books by breaking his school’s all-time rushing record.
Amassing nearly 3,500 rushing yards is a tremendous feat for a high school running back, who is only two weeks into his senior year, but Cooper attributed his achievement to hard work.
“It feels amazing, man. No one will understand how much work I had to put in for this, how much I had to go through for this,” said Cooper. “I love my squad. I love my team and it’s overwhelming what’s going on right now.”
Playing against a team like Damascus came with its own set of challenges. Damascus’ defensive lineman Bryan Bresee burst through the Quince Orchard offensive line like a runaway train and chased down Cougars quarterback Brian Plummer. Plummer had to scramble as Bresee closed in on him, and the Clemson commit also managed to ground Cooper on several occasions.
“(Bresee) definitely found himself in the backfield many times, and I had to make my move on him,” said Cooper. “He was definitely causing havoc in the backfield, but I had to overcome what he had because I had more in the tank than what they had and what he had.”
The first quarter proved to be a defensive showdown, as neither team found the end zone despite big runs from Cooper and Damascus running back Luke McCullough. The Quince Orchard defense also helped to set up the first touchdown of the night as defensive back Charles Bell intercepted Damascus quarterback Michael O’Neil and ran the ball to the 10-yard line to set up shop for the Cougars offense. Cooper stretched himself over the goal line for six points as a Swarmin’ Hornets defender held onto his leg and tried to bring him to the ground.
“I know Cooper is going to eat every time he touches the field,” said Bell. “I know he’s going to eat.”
Damascus’s last chance at first-half points depended solely upon the leg of kicker Junior Baires. However, the 42-yard field-goal attempt fell short of its target, and Damascus entered halftime scoreless.
A Damascus penalty drove the Swarmin’ Hornets backward and resulted in a second-and-20 situation. Wide receiver Chris Shaw responded for the visitors as he tore through the Quince Orchard defense and turned on the jets down the sidelines for a 51-yard touchdown.
Meanwhile, yellow flags plagued the Cougars in the third quarter. Quince Orchard was penalized four times on one possession; the first three penalties left the Cougars staring at first-and-30 in their own territory. Cooper earned back 22 of those yards, and Plummer connected with tight end Justin Moran for a first down that was negated by yet another penalty.
The score was still knotted at seven, with three minutes left to play, and it appeared as though overtime was imminent in the defensive bout between the two Montgomery County powerhouses.
Then Cooper shifted into a different gear. The senior muscled his way down the field, eating up yardage with fellow running back Jeremiah White and wide receiver Ryan Luke. Cooper pushed himself past the pile for a 3-yard score, but the two-point conversion attempt was unsuccessful.
The Cougars had a chance to try for two points again just 90 seconds later. Plummer first connected with Cooper for the touchdown and then with Moran to tack on two extra points.
There was just enough time left on the clock for Damascus to score, but Quince Orchard defensive back Larry Hackey guaranteed a Cougar victory when he intercepted O’Neil with less than a minute to play.
“I was never worried. I was always getting my team pumped up,” said Bell. “If you give it your all, you’re going to come out victorious. I’m proud of how we played and how we stepped up as a team early in the season.”
The Swarmin’ Hornets have lost only two games against a Montgomery County team since 2011; both of those losses came against Quince Orchard.
Damascus junior center Ryan Linthicum found a silver lining in his team’s loss.
“It’s kind of a moral victory, knowing we can play with any team in Maryland, but it’s not good enough,” said Linthicum. “Our game plan was just to execute and not have many mental mistakes, and unfortunately we had a couple of those, but we’ll fix them up.”
The Swarmin’ Hornets have one week to prepare to face 2-0 Magruder High School, while the Cougars will host Gaithersburg on Sept. 20.