ANNAPOLIS – The 2018 high school football season was an emotional one for DaLawn Parrish. His Dr. Henry A. Wise Jr. High School football team failed to live up to expectations for the first time in four years after losing in the semifinals and not reaching the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association (MPSSAA) Class 4A State Championship.
There were moments of doubt and wonder before starting offseason workouts for the 2019 season. The work of his players, returning and new, re-energized the 13-year coach into believing the Pumas would return “home.”
“This is not normal,” Parrish said, describing the long 16-hour workday. “But they love it and it is wild because you sit there and say ‘how much more time am I going to give to this,’ because they want to give more to this…I am fortunate to be around football junkies.”
Fast-forward to Dec. 6, Parrish stood in midfield at the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis as he received the championship plaque, signifying that they were once against state champions. He let out a huge smile before lifting the reclaimed prize over his head, surrounded by a sea of Wise football players.
In its sixth championship appearance in this decade, Wise showed its experience with a defensive clinic of six sacks on quarterback Jordan Morse. Meanwhile, sophomore Jayden Sauray shined to score four combined touchdowns as the Puma offense scored 21 unanswered points in the second half. Once again, the Pumas showed why they are in a class of their own, winning the 4A state championship, 34-14, over Northwest on Dec. 6.
The win reestablishes the Pumas (14-0) as the team to beat in the state. Coming into the season, players and Parrish spoke at length about how the Quince Orchard loss continued to replay itself in their minds. However, after defeating Old Mill in the state semifinals and learning their opponents were the Jaguars, Wise relished the opportunity to play a new opponent.
“We switched some things up,” wide receiver Dorian Strong said. “We knew they were not as strong in the linebacking and corner core so we came ready to attack that a lot… and on defense, we came to play ball and we played a hella of a (ballgame).”
Wise jumped out the gate strong as Sauray capped off a quick eight-play drive with a 1-yard touchdown run. The Jaguars (12-2) punched back in one play as wide receiver Kaden Prather hauled in a 79-yard touchdown pass to tie the game before the second quarter began.
The Pumas thought they were in the red zone when they converted on fourth down the middle of the second quarter. However, Strong was unable to stay in play to make the catch, as Wise turned the ball over on downs. However, one series later, they would strike as Sauray crashed into the end zone for a 10-yard rushing touchdown.
However, Northwest repeated itself again with another long passing play just 28 seconds after Wise scored. This time, wide receiver Ryan Beach caught a midrange pass in the middle of the field before running to score the 65-yard touchdown to tie the game. Kicker Kevin Mejicanos attempted a 21-yard touchdown before halftime but it was blocked, keeping the game tied.
Following the break, a fake handoff play set up a wide open Strong to receive a screen pass. The senior walked untouched to the end zone for the 43-yard touchdown. Meanwhile, the Pumas defense stepped up in the second half to limit the Jaguars’ offensive production through their pressure on both Morse and running back Ajahni Terry. By the end of the night, Northwest finished with -27 net rushing yards.
Two-way senior Jalil Farooq took advantage of the defensive pressure and good timing for the turning point play of the game. A low pass intended for Prather ended up bouncing off safety Kaden Jernigan’s foot before landing in the senior’s hands for the interception. In the ensuing drive, Farooq ran for 6 yards to score, giving Wise a 14-point lead.
“It was a play that I thought was over,” Farooq said. “I did not give up though; I played to the whistle and I made the interception; I made the play and that is what playmakers do.”
After Northwest failed to convert on fourth-and-29 midway through the fourth quarter, Sauray launched a pass into the middle of the field to find Keith Boddie Jr. for a 29-yard touchdown as the Wise bench began to slowly celebrate their victory.
Linebacker Rodney Gainous ended the Jaguars’ season with an explosive sack, his 3.5 of the game, on fourth down with 31 seconds remaining to start the championship celebration. The demons of a lost 2018 season for Wise were replaced with championship tears of joy.
“Emotional, draining,” Parrish said, reflecting back to past year at the post game podium. “Like right now, I am ready to go to sleep because I know we have some celebrating to do.”