UPPER MARLBORO – In a high school football match-up two years in the making, Wise versus Flowers in the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association (MPSSAA) 4A South regional finals lived up to the hype.
From tense moments to explosive offensive plays and strong defensive performances, both teams battled for every yard in each possession. By the end of the night, it would be the four-time state champion Pumas winning the war, using their experienced defense to manage the game and hold off Flowers for a 22-12 home victory on Nov. 16.
For Wise (10-1), the win was more than earning their fourth-straight state semifinals appearance. Flowers gained prominence after going undefeated for two straight regular seasons and earned key results against Eleanor Roosevelt and Suitland.
A loss to Calvert Hall in September, ending Wise’s 43-game winning streak, provided the scenario that a new team could emerge out of the region.
It would be the Pumas defense, usually overshadowed by the success of the offense, that would be the lead protagonist against the Jaguars as they powered through to sack quarterback Julius Duvall eight times and forced to commit three turnovers.
“This is still a game of offense, defense and special teams and I think we won that today,” Wise Head Coach DaLawn Parrish said. “We did a tremendous job not allowing our emotions get caught up…To see my young men fly around, fight, pull each other back and do things like that, it was a beautiful thing to see.”
Sophomore free safety Jalil Farooq made an outreaching catch for the interception in the first quarter, setting up a 14-yard touchdown pass to junior wide receiver Anthony Morales for Wise to take the early lead.
Flowers (10-1) responded with Duvall throwing to running back Breaun Roderique for a nine-yard score.
On the ensuing kickoff, the ball would bounce off two Wise players and be recovered by the Jaguars. The momentum gathered by the recovery disappeared as the offense did not take advantage of the excellent field position and turnover the ball on downs before halftime.
Wise’s offense struggled to establish their running game the whole game but found other ways to excel as a unit in the second half. After a Nigel Johnson interception, running back Brandon Bell bruised through with a 12-yard touchdown.
On their following possession, good field position allowed quarterback Quinton Williams to lunged forward for a 1-yard score. The Pumas would finish with 173 total yards, mainly due to the short yardage situations provided by their defense.
“We came out with more intensity than them, and we executed what we were supposed to do,” junior defensive tackle Kamrin Porter, who had two sacks, said. “We won three back-to-back state championships and played good competition, and we have more experience than them. We just executed the game plan…We are doing great on defense, and I love it.”
Meanwhile, Flowers was slowly self-destructing on both sides of the ball. Even as the defense was excelling, they were whistled for the majority of Flowers’ 14 flags including an ejection following a midfield skirmish midway through the third quarter. While the Jaguars’ offense accumulated 234 yards, eight drives ended with no points.
Hoping for a comeback by Flowers, Duvall rose to the occasion and threw a 39-yard pass to the end zone to a wide-open Zebadiah Suku for the touchdown as the third quarter ended.
However, the defensive pressure by Wise was too much for Flowers. In the game’s final five minutes, the Pumas pressured Duvall into three sacks, including three players wrapping the senior around for a loss on fourth down with less than 90 seconds remaining.
“Coach (Parrish) always tell us to fly to the ball and never let one person make the tackle, it has to be all 11 on the ball,” Johnson said. “And that is what we did today.”
Jaguars players were emotional after the game, saying this was an opportunity lost to become state champions. Head Coach Dameon Powell said that going this far in the playoffs this year will serve the younger players as a goal to strive for “bigger and better things” for their program.
“Our boys have a lot of pride, and we just made some mistakes in the middle of the game, that is the difference of a team that has been there before and a team that is trying to get there,” Powell said.
“I think we played well and well enough to win but a couple of miscues here and we played an excellent team, and everything has to be perfect and right. It just didn’t go our way today.”
Up next for the regaining state champions is the semifinal stage where they will travel to Quince Orchard High School in Gaithersburg in a rematch of last year’s state championship. Playing against one of the county’s best defenses provided a necessary test for Wise as they prepare a tough Cougars team, Parrish said.
“This was a good confidence booster, offensively and defensively even special teams,” Williams said. “It showed us what we need to do to finish the championship run and finish the mission.”