BETHESDA – When the undefeated Cougars of Quince Orchard High School closed out the regular season with a resounding 47-7 win over Walter Johnson High School on Nov. 1, Head Coach John Kelley gave his players just one reminder before the team boarded the buses back to Gaithersburg.
“The regular season means nothing,” Kelley said. “Right now, the playoffs are what matters. Next week is Week One.”
Despite earning the No. 1 seed, Quince Orchard (9-0) will not have a first-round bye week due to the shortened regular season and expanded postseason format implemented at the beginning of the school year. Before the Cougars could get to the playoffs and face off against Gaithersburg High School, however, one last team stood in their way.
The Cougars had entered the season as the defending state champions, with star running back Marquez Cooper, starting quarterback Brian Plummer and a host of powerful defensive players returning to the team. Quince Orchard’s success did not come as a surprise. Walter Johnson’s did.
Fairytale seasons are often discussed in sports, but Walter Johnson’s 2019 campaign was nothing short of historical. The Wildcats won four straight games to open the season with the best start in school history. A 7-2 record led to a No. 4 seed in Walter Johnson’s first-ever playoff berth; an unprecedented feat for a team that had registered just one winning season in two decades.
However, the statistics speak for themselves. Going into Week Nine, Walter Johnson senior quarterback Josh Forburger led Montgomery County in passing yards. Junior running back Aaron Jones trailed only Cooper and Richard Montgomery’s T’Kai Ayoola in total rushing yards.
When the Wildcats hosted the Cougars on Senior Night, Jones fired off a 68-yard run that brought Walter Johnson to the Quince Orchard 2-yard line. The junior changed direction ran to the right and turned on the jets as several Cougars defenders chased him down. Quince Orchard’s defense stopped the Wildcats three times at the goal line and blocked a field goal attempt on fourth down to keep Walter Johnson scoreless in the first quarter.
Meanwhile, Cooper finished the game with 13 carries for 117 yards and three touchdowns despite not playing in the fourth quarter. Plummer threw for 157 yards and three touchdowns; two of those touchdowns came courtesy of senior wide receiver Ryan Luke.
Walter Johnson’s sole touchdown occurred in the second quarter. Several Wildcats defenders closed in on a backpedaling Plummer, and a hard sack knocked the ball loose. Senior outside linebacker Cole Holland scooped up the ball in stride as a cheer rose up from the Walter Johnson home crowd. Holland reached the end zone untouched with arms outstretched as he put six points on the board for the Wildcats.
Heavy pressure from the Quince Orchard defense kept the usually prolific Walter Johnson offense at bay. Forburger had to drop back to pass on multiple plays and sacked a total of four times. Jones did not score a touchdown, but he kept running hard and muscling his way through the pile even when the win was out of reach.
Quince Orchard junior linebacker Demeioun Robinson, on the other hand, enjoyed a successful game as he registered two sacks and one blocked punt. Robinson even earned his third touchdown of the year when he returned an onside kick for 50 yards.
“We started off slow, and we started to speed up during the game, but we could do a lot better,” said Robinson. “I have a lot of things to improve on my speed, my pass-rushing moves.”
A 35-yard touchdown pass from Plummer to Luke resulted in a running clock in the third quarter and Kelley decided to pull his starters.
Jones continued to display his tenacity and almost broke loose on one of the game’s final runs before the Wildcats failed to convert a fourth down and turned the ball over to Quince Orchard to close out the game.
As the No. 4 seed, the Wildcats will play against Urbana High School to kick off their first-ever postseason appearance on Nov. 8.
“It’s an accomplishment, and we just try to win every week, work our hardest and try our best to execute,” said Jones. “I’m most proud of my team’s effort and how we fought strong the whole game.”
For Kelley and the Cougars, the return to the postseason is when the real work begins.
“Just like I told our kids, the playoffs are when the real season starts,” said Kelley. “The regular season is out the window. We have to continue to get better.”