ANNAPOLIS – Damascus High School has returned to the top of high school football supremacy.
On a chilly Dec. 5, the Swarmin’ Hornets shut out Linganore High School 38-0 in the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association (MPSSAA) Class 3A State Finals. Damascus demonstrated a show of force so dominant that it harked back to the regular season games where Damascus would handily defeat opponents by over 30 points.
The victory meant more than just numbers on a board and another title: it exorcised the demons left by Oakdale High School last year. Oakdale eliminated Damascus in the regional final, an exit that was uncharacteristic for a Swarmin’ Hornets team who won three straight state finals and had a 53-game winning streak watched around the nation before the loss against the Bears.
“It feels great. After losing to Oakdale last year we just had the urgency to come back, we had to rebound from our loss last year,” said quarterback Michael O’Neil. “Everyone worked great on the offseason, we worked to push, and this was our goal all along.”
Damascus sought to use the strength of their defense to muscle their way towards the finals, and it worked. Linganore was so hard-pressed for scoring opportunities that their closest shot was when they were at Damascus’ 21-yard line, a drive that ended with Lancer running back Nick Hayslett fumbling the ball away. Linganore was also only able to convert one of seven third downs through the entire match, a testament to Damascus’ domination.
Turnovers were the bane of both teams in the first half, but the turnovers hit each side differently. Damascus fumbled twice and recovered once, while Linganore lost both of their fumbles in the first half, a fatal error for the team from Frederick County.
“They’re as good as advertised, yes they are,” said Linganore Head Coach Rick Conner.
Lineman Bryan Bresee started scoring off for Damascus with a late first-quarter touchdown. At the 2-yard line, Damascus saw their star lineman as the best option to push through the Linganore defense, and the Lancers could not stop Bresee from putting up six points. Kicker Junior Baires followed up with a good extra point attempt.
Damascus then scored on the first drive of the second quarter, after taking possession at the 10-yard line, with a 27-yard field goal from Baires. Uncharacteristically for Damascus’ physical play that has pushed through the Lancer defense with ease to this point, Linganore was able to hold them for 2 yards in three downs.
Wide receiver Isaiah Bell then scored the second touchdown for Damascus on a 30-yard pass from O’Neil in the end zone. Deeply covered, Bell jumped in the air and reached back, somehow managing to make the catch. Baires followed up again with a good field goal kick.
With less than half a minute left, O’Neil fired a short 6-yard pass to tight end Malek Sabri to put them up 24 points over Linganore before halftime.
At the break, it was clear Linganore would have to pull every trick in its arsenal to score. With a half left, they would have to overcome the Damascus defense that has stalled them entirely as well as put up points on the board. Their passing game was ineffective, and a prepared Damascus team neutralized the Lancers’ running game.
“I thought we were able to shut down their run, which we anticipated that’s what they wanted to do,” Damascus Head Coach Eric Wallich said. “We thought that the counter to that would be some of the trick plays they like to run, and I thought we prepared really well, and the guys did a really great job executing the game plan.”
Damascus locked the game down in the third quarter, but finished it off in the fourth, with a touchdown in each quarter as a change in pace. O’Neil scored in the third quarter off of a 16-yard carry and then completed a 26-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Austin Ambush in the fourth quarter to cap off their rout.
“This team was everybody, not just the seniors…the whole team was just a really tight-knit group, and everyone had each other’s backs, and I think that’s another reason why this team was so special,” said Bresee.