ANNAPOLIS – For most of the 2019 football season, Northwest High School’s football team flew under the radar.
The Jaguars, despite their 12-2 record, did not get as much attention as other high schools like the 2018 state champions Quince Orchard or history-making Walter Johnson, or even Rockville, who started the season at 6-0.
Northwest took that underdog mentality and used it as fuel throughout the season. When the playoff dust cleared and team after team in Montgomery County had already lost a game and gone home, the Jaguars were left standing in the coveted spot in the 4A state championship game at the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis on Dec. 6.
Dr. Henry A. Wise High School from Prince George’s County stood between the Jaguars and another state title. Quince Orchard knocked the Pumas out of the playoffs last year, and that irritated Wise for more than a year. The Pumas took the loss personally, and the return to Annapolis against Northwest was Wise’s chance at redemption.
Northwest’s underdog luck ran out in the second half of the title game, and Wise would go on to claim the state championship crown by a score of 35-14. The Pumas were champions once again for the fourth time in five years.
Wise’s defensive pressure overwhelmed the Jaguars and quarterback Jordan Morse, as it sacked him sacked six times. Northwest running back Ajahni Terry, who amassed over 1,000 yards on the ground in 2019, turned in an uncharacteristically unsuccessful performance against Wise.
Terry shredded Montgomery County defenses all season, but the Pumas had done their homework and held Terry to just 15 yards.
“I don’t think we were able to establish control at the line of scrimmage offensively with the run game. I think if we had been able to do that, we would have had a better opportunity,” said Northwest Head Coach Mike Neubeiser. “Once you get a team like that and you’re behind, and you’re passing, they know you’re going to throw the ball and they have great pass rushers. They do a great job of getting to your quarterback.”
However, Wise could not contain Northwest wide receivers Ryan Beach and Kaden Prather. Beach and Prather provided a touchdown apiece for Northwest, and both players logged over 100 yards receiving. Beach’s 159 yards totaled more than three of Wise’s receivers combined.
“I will say, (Beach) was quicker than I thought he was,” said Wise Head Coach DaLawn Parrish. “The film doesn’t do him justice.”
Beach is nicknamed “Rocket Man,” and he proved to the Annapolis crowd that the moniker is well-earned when he burst loose for a 65-yard touchdown. The senior kicked it into second gear and outran the Wise defenders as he ran a jagged path to pay dirt.
While the Pumas took their time maneuvering down the field and ate time off the clock, both of Northwest’s scoring drives combined took less than 50 seconds.
Wise scored on its opening drive, but the Jaguars answered back at the end of the first quarter on a long pass on first-and-10. Morse caught Prather in stride, and the junior seemed oblivious to the Pumas that were trailing him as he unleashed a 79-yard touchdown. In just 10 seconds, the Jaguars had tied the game.
The Pumas pulled ahead again on a quarterback keeper by sophomore Jayden Sauray, but Beach responded on Northwest’s ensuing possession to tie the game again, heading into the half.
Wise increased the defensive pressure on Morse, and Northwest’s opening drive in the second half ended in a sack for a loss. The Pumas took the lead for the final time on the next possession and, after Northwest blocked a field goal attempt earlier in the game, Parrish called for the two-point conversion.
However, the attempt proved unsuccessful, and the Pumas led by six instead of eight. Those two missing points provided a prime opportunity for the Jaguars to capitalize, but the Wise defense continued to pour on the pressure.
Morse backpedaled and scrambled as several defenders overwhelmed him. If Morse did manage to escape, he was forced to throw into coverage. Terry and fellow running back Joseph Bruno were stymied almost immediately after receiving the handoff. Beach caught another long pass but was unable to add yards after the catch as a Puma defender wrapped around him.
“Morse just put it where it was supposed to be, and my teammates did their job,” said a visibly emotional Beach after the game. “It wasn’t the way we wanted it to end.”
“Being the underdog is what got us here: the hard grind. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to come out on top,” said Prather. “We did a lot that people weren’t expecting. We weren’t favored to be here right now. It was definitely a motivation, even though we didn’t end it the way we wanted it to.”
Players like Prather and Morse will return to the team in 2020; others, like Terry and Beach, will graduate in the spring.
“I’m going to carry (this loss) with me in the offseason, and next season I’ll remember it,” said Prather. “We’ll be back.”