UPPER MARLBORO – All year, Dr. Henry A. Wise Jr. High School Head Coach DaLawn Parrish said defense has been his team’s calling card. The Pumas have given up just 46 points in 11 games, including six shutouts.
On a night where Wise’s offense committed five turnovers against a hard-nosed Suitland High School team, its defense stepped up to keep the Rams at bay in a 20-6 victory in the second round of the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association (MPSSAA) 4A state playoffs.
“We play defense all year, that’s been our M.O.,” Parrish said. “If we get in a defensive scrum I’m pretty confident we can handle it.”
Suitland (7-4) had five drives in the second half that got into the red zone, and the Pumas defense held pat on four of those five drives. Wise (11-0) scored twice in the first half to take a 13-0 lead, though it left points on the board with three turnovers in Suitland territory.
The Rams capitalized on that on their first possession of the second half, with senior quarterback Damien Partee finding Jermawn Ford for a 15-yard touchdown to cut the lead to 13-6.
The drive showed Suitland’s strategy on offense. The Rams looked to control possession by running the ball and Partee making the necessary throws to keep the drive alive. After getting two first downs through penalties, Partee found wide receiver Malique Perry for a 29-yard gain on third-and-25 from the Wise 45-yard line to keep the drive alive. Three plays later, the Rams punched it in the end zone for a touchdown.
That was the only drive Suitland would score on in the second half despite pulling out all the stops to win. After the extra point was blocked, Ford recovered the Rams’ short kickoff in Wise territory. Suitland moved the ball to the 11-yard line before Partee was sacked by senior linebacker Tracey White and a fourth-down pass fell short.
Wise put some much-needed breathing room in between itself and Suitland four plays later when Joseph Johnson ran for a 54-yard touchdown to extend the Pumas lead to 20-6 with 7:49 remaining in the fourth quarter.
“That’s what my team really needed,” Johnson said. “We (were) up 13-6 and we really needed a touchdown so I had to make a play.”
That nullified Suitland’s ball-control strategy, though the Rams kept pushing. Suitland went 66 yards in 14 plays following Johnson’s touchdown but came up empty. On a fourth-and-one from the Wise 14-yard line, Partee’s pass went off the hands of a receiver. That looked to be the dagger, though two more Puma turnovers gave the Rams additional opportunities.
“We didn’t come up out here hoping to be close,” Shields said. “We tried to put a plan together to help our guys win and we just didn’t execute well.”
The first ended with senior Kiysean Clardy intercepting Partee, and the second ended with another dropped fourth-down pass. With less than a minute remaining in the fourth, Wise was able to run out the clock and advance to the final eight in the playoffs for the fifth straight year.
While it did not come easy, and Parrish said he did not expect it to be.
“This is something I talked about when they came up with this new playoff format,” Parrish said. “In our county, you typically have five good teams that can fight every night. When we talk about the playoffs and the new format, we still going to fight a battle in our second round. It’s going to be the same thing where we got four top teams where other regions have two top teams.”
Despite the playoffs reseeding the final eight teams unlike in previous years, Wise will play county foe Charles H. Flowers High School in the state quarterfinals on Nov. 22. Both teams met each other in the same round last year, known then as the 4A South regional final in the old playoff format. The Pumas held off a veteran Jaguars team for a 22-12 victory to advance to the state semifinals.