HYATTSVILLE – As one of the smallest teams in the Maryland Public School Athletic Association (MPSSAA) 4A division, Suitland High School football coach Ed Shields preaches the next man up mentality to his team.
The Rams lived up to that motto on Oct. 4 against Northwestern High School. On the first offensive play in the third quarter, senior running back Latrell McCants suffered a leg injury and was removed off the field. McCants had 500 rushing yards in Suitland’s first four games and had 79 yards on nine carries before the injury.
“We always say somebody else has got to step up,” Shields said. “I always say if someone kidnaps me and takes me to Bermuda, y’all still have to go win.”
Luckily for the Rams, senior Benjamin Atyam answered the call. On a night where Suitland almost beat itself, Atyam bailed out his team, scoring a go-ahead 51-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter in a 14-8 victory over the Wildcats (2-3).
“I’m just thinking gotta bring my team up gotta make a play,” Atyam said. “One of our brothers went down and I had to replace him and do what we continue to do.”
Atyam finished with 101 yards on 10 carries, a highlight in a night where the Rams continued to make mistakes that kept them in the game.
The mistakes started early, as McCants lost a fumble in the red zone on Suitland’s second offensive play of the game. Then on its second drive, a completed pass resulted in a fumble that Northwestern recovered at Suitland’s 27-yard line.
The Rams turned it over again in the second quarter, as quarterback Damien Partee lost the ball when getting sacked.
“The turnovers, good teams don’t do that,” Shields said. “We have to earn our right back to be a good team.”
Suitland (5-0) struggled to punch it in near the goal line too, turning it over on downs at the 8-yard line in the second quarter and failing to score to end the half despite having the ball inside the 10-yard line.
What was more frustrating was that Northwestern was struggling to move the ball, gaining just six yards the entire first half. With their two offensive tackles out due to injury, the Wildcats struggled to deal with the Rams technically sound defensive line.
“They have some guys that aren’t huge but they have low center of gravity,” Northwestern Head Coach Bryan Pierre said. “They’re strong, they’re muscular and get a good push. I just told the guys that’s something we have to fight through that.”
Things looked to be turning around in the third quarter, as the Rams finished off the drive that started with McCants’s injury. Following the senior’s 28-yard run, Partee finished off an eight-play drive with a 1-yard run. Suitland went for two, with Aaron Robinson spinning into the end zone after being hit.
It looked to be the spark Suitland needed, until its next offensive possession. A carry by JaeShawn Champ ended in Northwestern’s Robert Taylor returning a fumble for a 70-yard touchdown to cut the lead to 8-6.
“It felt good,” Taylor said. “My first fast-break defense nobody behind me for a touchdown, it felt good.”
A blocked punt later in the quarter eventually trickled out of the end zone for a Wildcats safety, tying the game at eight.
After Taylor’s run, Northwestern had one more chance to tie the game when Suitland failed to punch it in on fourth and goal from the 3-yard line.
Senior quarterback Emil Medina found Dagostino Sainial for a 23-yard gain to start the drive, but Northwestern failed to advance the ball any further.
The loss could be a wakeup call for Suitland, who is entering the toughest part of its schedule. The Rams have a challenging next three games, hosting Bowie and Dr. Henry A. Wise, Jr. before traveling to Flowers.
“The coaches aren’t going to put us in a situation to fail,” Partee said. “As long as we do what we’re supposed to we’ll end up on top.”
Despite the loss, Northwestern’s effort was encouraging, Pierre said. It was a step forward for the Wildcats, who had lost the previous four matchups to Suitland by an average of 20 points per game.
“I loved the fight,” Pierre said. “Suitland’s a tough team, they come out and push people around. I told them we can’t be pushed around, we have to be willing to fight, they stepped up and went toe-to-toe.”