GAITHERSBURG – After five years and six losses, including two regional final defeats, the Northwest High School football team finally beat Quince Orchard High School once again: this time in the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association (MPSSAA) Class 4A state semifinals.
The Jaguars ended the No. 1 seeded Cougars’ season with a 22-13 victory on Nov. 29 to earn a berth to the finals to take on Dr. Henry A. Wise Jr. High School on Dec. 6.
Billed as a grudge match, the semifinal game featured an undefeated Quince Orchard team against a Northwest team whose only loss was to the Cougars earlier in the season. Northwest came into the semifinal match with several older players who have not known what a victory against Quince Orchard feels like.
“They’re a great team, but we just executed well,” Northwest quarterback Jordan Morse said. “We knew all week what we had to do, and we just executed to 100 percent, put points on the board and our defense played lights out.”
Northwest knew the secret to success was stopping Quince Orchard’s vaunted running game, led by running back Marquez Cooper. His resume from last year dropped jaws and had defensive coordinators sweating: 38 touchdowns and 2,021 rushing yards. Every team, even Damascus and its stout defense, fell to Quince Orchard in the regular season, due in part because of Cooper’s performance.
Cooper scored two touchdowns the last time both of these teams met: this time, the senior scored none. Northwest knew he was going to be a target and smothered him with coverage; a lesson learned the hard way through years of losses to the Cougars.
Quince Orchard’s run game, in general, was shut down, save for a few moments where a stray Cougars’ player managed to slip away.
“The kids bought in, and they swarmed the football. They just got off blocks and got to the football and made a priority of getting stops,” Northwest Head Coach Mike Neubeiser said.
In the preseason, Neubeiser also noted how important it was to stop their running game, that the only chance of winning was to stop it and force them to punt. The Jaguars followed the formula to victory.
The performance was not perfect, and one of the first plays showed why stopping the Cougar run game was of the highest priority. The first Quince Orchard touchdown of the game came off of a 95-yard kickoff return by defensive back Charles Bell, tying the game up in the first quarter and the closest they would get to the lead. A two-point conversion attempt failed, leaving them tied.
“This game was a dogfight, we just played our hearts out,” said running back Joseph Bruno.
Ironically, a mistake by Quince Orchard was the reason that Bell made that run. Quince Orchard earned the first possession of the game and immediately fumbled it away to Northwest, who then drove it down the field for running back Ajahni Terry to make a 12-yard touchdown run and put the first six points on the board. The extra point by Fernando Lazo was blocked.
“We’ve basically been preparing for them since week one. It just feels good to finally beat them,” said Terry.
Northwest broke the stalemate by marching to the 8-yard line on fourth down, where Lazo made a short field goal to end the first quarter with Northwest leading.
The gap almost closed in the second quarter when wide receiver Ryan Beach scored Northwest’s second touchdown of the night and helped put Northwest 10 points ahead. Quince Orchard responded with a pass by quarterback Brian Plummer to unguarded wide receiver Ryan Swigart for another touchdown, narrowing the lead to three points before halftime.
Both teams went scoreless in the third quarter, neither team getting close enough to score. It made the game-winning decision from the fourth quarter even more crucial, where a touchdown by Northwest could seal the game, while Quince Orchard had to make a field goal while keeping the Jaguars away from scoring.
Terry would give Quince Orchard the final blow and scored the last touchdown of the game for Northwest with a 5-yard rush that had the entire Northwest team push him into the end zone. Lazo’s extra point kick was blocked, leaving the Cougars with a nine-point deficit to climb to stay in the hunt.
Northwest’s defense held steady and stopped their advance, beating their rivals and handing Quince Orchard their first loss of the year as they go on to the finals.
Defeated, Quince Orchard players eventually headed to the locker room and trickled back out. Cooper was the last to exit.
“This was the best four years of my life that I’ve ever had, that I’ve ever had,” said Cooper, holding back tears. “I gained people that I can call family from here on out.”