The Quince Orchard Cougars won their eighth straight game and clinched a playoff spot for the 13th straight season with their 59-20 victory over Whitman on Friday, and can take the top seed in the 4A West region playoffs with a win over Paint Branch this Friday in their final regular season home game.
That’s the good news. The bad news is the way the playoff schedule looks now, QO may have to face their nemesis the Northwest Jaguars in the first round of the playoffs instead of in the region final as they have— unsuccessfully—the past three seasons.
“We are excited to be in the playoffs and look forward to the challenge” of playing their arch-rival defending regional champion, Northwest, said QO head coach John Kelley.
The Cougars (8-1) used their depth, talent and versatility to outclass a good Whitman (5-4) team that was fighting for a possible playoff spot. They exploded for 31 points in the second quarter to break open a 14-12 game that saw Whitman get within a failed two-point conversion of tying.
Leading QO was quarterback Doc Bonner, who ran for two touchdowns and threw for three on his way to 233 yards of total offense (80 rushing, 153 passing). Running back Marvin Beander also scored two TDs in his 109 yards rushing on eight carries.
“I’m happy with the win,” said Kelley. “But we need to tighten up a few things.” Penalties plagued the Cougars against Whitman as they have for much of the season, and they surrendered over 200 yards in the air including a 75-yard touchdown pass and run.
The story was much the same the previous Friday night in QO’s 63-7 Homecoming victory over Bethesda-Chevy Chase. The Cougars dominated, but made troubling mistakes.
“We were sloppy,” said Kelley, pointing especially to recurring holding penalties and inexplicably long kickoff returns by B-CC after QO scoring plays.
QO, however, also benefited from big special teams plays that night, as Beander returned the kick following B-CC’s lone touchdown 95 yards for a score, and later in the second quarter Joe Beville scored untouched on a 50 yard punt return.
The constant all season for QO has been Bonner. One gets the sense that he can control a game at will, displaying his power and speed on long running plays or drilling open receivers with perfectly thrown passes. The junior quarterback has completed 65 percent of his passes this season for over 1,200 yards and 16 touchdowns and is averaging 7 yards per carry with seven touchdowns on 460 yards rushing.
“Doc is playing well,” said Kelley. “He’s making good decisions with the ball.”
Also bolstering QO is its remarkable depth. Bonner’s TD passes against Whitman went to three different receivers while his three TD passes the previous two weeks went to three other players. Beander is the team’s leading rusher with 639 yards, but Titus Johnson has 505 and sophomore Gerald “Tre” Wade has 345, including 127 yards and two TDs against B-CC. The Cougars have a six-man rotation on their defensive line and regularly rotate players into their linebacking corps and secondary.
“The depth is great,” Kelley said. “We knew we should have it going into the season and it’s worked out nice.”
Kelley regularly implores his players to “keep getting better,” and his mantra seems to have rubbed off.
“We just have to keep on working,” said safety Marvin Nemi following the B-CC win. “Even though we came out with a team win today, I felt like we could have done better. … Just got to keep doing our job and keep rolling as a team.”
“We can always improve,” said offensive guard and co-captain Joe Hodges. “We can always bring more intensity, but we just got to keep rolling.”
As they prepare for the playoffs and likely showdown with Northwest, the Cougars know that their 24-21 regular season victory over the Jaguars means little. QO beat the Jags in the regular season the past three seasons but still lost the regional final each time.
“Our main milestone is to beat Northwest and overcome what’s been going on for the past three years,” said Nemi. “We just need to keep on working. Get better. Cut down the penalties and stuff like that.”
Hodges said the offensive line has been gelling since the Northwest game. “We came together as a family, we came together as a unit, and we got the job done.”
And if the Cougars beat Paint Branch at the Cougardome this Friday they will enjoy the luxury of home field advantage in the playoffs. That, as the players say, is a huge plus.
“Oh, it’s a blessing,” said junior linebacker Tyler Terry, who transferred this year from Gaithersburg, about playing at QO. “The whole atmosphere. Like the Red Army, they’re crazy. … I love it.”
Said Hodges to the QO fans: “Be back here for the playoffs. You gotta be loud. We need you guys.”