BETHESDA – At most high school football games, the home team bursts through a paper banner as they race onto the field before kickoff. The banner is usually emblazoned with a clever phrase meant to intimidate the visiting team or inspire the home team.
When the high school state playoffs kicked off on Nov. 8, Walter Johnson’s banner read a simple, meaningful message. It spoke to the decades that the Wildcats program had fallen short of the postseason goal. It honored former varsity football players, some of whom were in attendance for the 4A West matchup against 6-4 Urbana High School.
The banner read “Wildcats make history.”
After a 42-10 victory over the Hawks on a frigid night, another chapter is going to be written about Walter Johnson’s memorable 2019 season.
The win that earned the 8-2 Wildcats a spot in the second round of the playoffs came as a result of the entire team heating up at the right time. Urbana scored first on a 22-yard field goal, but the Walter Johnson defense blanked the Hawks for two consecutive quarters until senior Austin McMahon registered a late touchdown.
Meanwhile, the Walter Johnson offense displayed its multiple scoring threats as four different Wildcats found the end zone at least once.
“They’re a good football team, they’re here for a reason. We’re a good football team, they just played better than we did,” said Urbana Head Coach Brad Wilson. “They got ahead and we couldn’t catch up.”
The first Wildcats touchdown arrived in the second quarter as senior quarterback Josh Forburger connected with wide receiver Kai Holloway in stride for the 20-yard go-ahead score. The Wildcats would not trail again for the rest of the game.
Forburger tossed a floating 9-yard pass to receiver Jose Cabrera on the next possession and Cabrera caught the ball in the corner of the end zone to extend Walter Johnson’s lead before halftime. Holloway and Cabrera had finished the regular season with over 1,150 combined receiving yards and had accounted for 13 of Forburger’s 17 passing touchdowns.
Walter Johnson running backs Ian Griffin and Aaron Jones traded handoffs out of the backfield as the Hawks struggled to contain both players. Griffin changed directions mid-run, stiff-armed defenders and refused to be brought to the ground without a battle, while Jones broke through holes up the middle and dragged the pile along with him as he churned down the field.
“I feel like I had a great game and I had something kind of bordering on success tonight, but I feel like my success came from the offensive line and how well our offensive coordinator conducted the offense,” said Griffin. “Everyone worked together to play a big part in this 42-10 win.”
The Wildcats scored points on almost every second-half possession. The Hawks opened the second half, but the offense wasn’t on the field for very long. Walter Johnson defensive end Anthony Villacis sacked Urbana quarterback Kyle Howes and stripped the ball away. The Wildcats recovered the fumble but did not earn any points on the ensuing possession.
However, Villacis’s quarterback sack seemed to reenergize the defense. Defenders mercilessly chased Howes down, forcing him to run backward and even generating an intentional grounding penalty.
Jones and Griffin continued to move the ball down the field as the Wildcats defense made short work of the Urbana offense and kept them off the field. Griffin strung together two long runs back to back to get the Wildcats to the red zone before bursting through the lane for his only touchdown of the night.
Then, Jones scored twice back to back in less than three minutes. The junior shoved his way through the middle of the Hawks defenders until he reached open-air and pay dirt.
Jones’s two touchdowns put the game on ice for Urbana, but Cabrera ended up getting the last word. Forburger hit Cabrera with a 20-yard pass at the corner of the end zone again with just under three minutes left to play. Cabrera gained just enough separation from his defender to catch Forburger’s pass and extend Walter Johnson’s lead.
After the game, the Wildcats on the sidelines stormed the field to dance and celebrate with the rest of their teammates.
“I’m the most proud of this team and how much work we put in this whole year. We deserved this, we’ve worked so hard,” said Forburger. “It’s pretty awesome to win a playoff game for the first time in the history of WJ. It’s great for the team, it’s great for the school and the community and it’s awesome to really be a part of.”
“It’s a new feeling. I don’t think any of my teammates on this team have been able to do this,” said Griffin. “It’s a great feeling to finally win a Maryland state playoff game, but we have a lot more to go. That’s what we’re focused on. We’re going to enjoy tonight, but we’ll be back in the lab on Monday.”
Next up for Walter Johnson is a foe the Wildcats are very familiar with. After all, Quince Orchard High School came to Bethesda to finish off the regular season just a week before on Nov. 1. The defending state champions moved on to the second round after handily defeating Gaithersburg High School by a final score of 70-12.