With three games left in the regular season, the Quince Orchard football team sits at 6-1, ranked 19th in the area by The Washington Post, and has won their past three games by a combined score of 145-8.
You’d think a team on a roll like that would be pleased with themselves. But if you ask them if they’re satisfied at this stage of the season with their annual showdown with Northwest on Oct. 27, the playoffs looming in November and a possible rematch with two-time defending state champion Wise, they all echo the words of senior defensive lineman Desmond Johnson.
“Nah. We got to get better.”
It would be hard to convince their last three opponents—Einstein, Paint Branch, and Kennedy—that QO can get much better. The Cougars held Einstein to -20 yards of offense in the first half and scored on special teams, in the air and on the ground in the first quarter. Against Paint Branch they scored on special teams, offense and defense, also in the first quarter.
And it’s not like their opponents are bad teams. Paint Branch was undefeated and one of the top teams in their region. Einstein was 4-2 and remains in the playoff picture.
“We’re playing pretty good right now,” conceded head coach John Kelley after QO trounced Einstein, 47-0, at last Friday’s Homecoming game. But no matter who they are playing, “we got to focus on getting ourselves better … and on us getting better at what we have to do.”
QO’s recent run followed their hard-fought, one-point overtime loss to private school power Bullis (6-0 and ranked 18th by the Post) in one of the most thrilling games ever in the Cougardome.
The Cougars have looked sharper and more explosive, starting with the second half of the Bullis contest, and several players have upped their games to either solidify their roles on the team or emerge as valuable new playmakers.
Quarterback Doc Bonner entered the season as QO’s key player. Kelley has called Bonner the “best quarterback in school history” and “best quarterback in the state” and said, “He has to perform like it for us to be successful this season.”
So far, he has. Bonner, who recently committed to Dartmouth, is completing an astounding 70 percent of his passes (66 for 94) for almost 1,300 yards with 14 touchdowns and only one interception. He’s gained 346 yards rushing with nine touchdowns and averaged eight yards per carry. All this while he and the other starters have only played the first half of most games.
“I can never be satisfied until we complete our goals,” Bonner said when asked if he was satisfied with his performance so far. “But I feel I’m playing well to reach our team goals.”
Others have also stepped up for the Cougars. Junior wide receiver Brian McGonagle has become Bonner’s most productive target and leads the squad with 432 yards on 17 catches and seven touchdowns. He is especially adept at big plays, connecting for scores of 72, 60, 56, 42, 37 and 35 yards. Senior Elijah Payne has 19 catches and 402 yards, and senior Aaron Derwin has used his speed from the slot for big plays on screens, bombs and jet sweeps.
The most promising development for Kelley’s run-first offense is sophomore running back Marquez Cooper. The diminutive scatback has been running with confidence and leads QO with 478 yards rushing on 65 carries with nine touchdowns and, importantly, no fumbles.
“I’ve been working hard and getting more comfortable,” said Cooper, generously listed as 5-foot-7 and 170 pounds. “I’m getting more comfortable with my O-line, reading the holes, and just getting comfortable with the varsity atmosphere. Now I’m having fun.”
On defense, the front seven has dominated in every game, including the second half against Bullis, and no one more so than Johnson. Johnson and linemates Bryan Ramos and Devonte Paige (they call themselves “Cerberus”) have controlled the line, and Johnson has often busted free to cause havoc. He recovered a key fumble against Bullis and spent much of Friday’s game in Einstein’s backfield with at least six tackles for losses.
“He’s one of the best D-linemen in the state,” Kelley said.
Sophomore Steven Williams stepped up when Ramos was injured against Bullis and has become part of the front-three rotation.
“I was just trying to not have a downfall in Bryan’s spot … so that way when I’m on the field it’s like having Bryan out there,” said Williams.
And junior Johnny Hodges has made plays on defense, offense and special teams. He leads the team with 52 tackles from his inside linebacker position, has one interception, and a forced fumble. As a tight end he’s caught five passes, two for touchdowns. And he’s blocked a punt and returned it for a touchdown and even punted on some of the few occasions when QO has had to kick.
QO plays at Wheaton this Friday, then returns to the Cougardome for the neighborhood rivalry match Oct. 27 against Northwest, also currently 6-1, in a game that will likely determine top seed in the regional playoffs.