Kevin Joppy has been called “Twos” since childhood, based on sharing the same name with his father. But this week people may start calling him “Fives” after the Quince Orchard running back who wears no. 5 scored five touchdowns to lead the Cougars to a 42-21 playoff win over Clarksburg last Friday at the Cougar Dome.
QO’s victory combined with Northwest’s 36-7 thrashing of Gaithersburg sets up a 4A West regional final match-up Friday night at the Dome between the Cougars and the neighboring Jaguars (9-2), who beat QO three weeks ago for the only blemish on their 10-1 record.
“I’m just happy we’re still playing” said Quince Orchard head coach Dave Mencarini after the hard-fought, physical game against Clarksburg.
The Cougars’ theme this season is “all-in” as they try to return to the state final for a third consecutive season and win the championship that’s eluded them. Friday they played their best hand in the elusive Joppy, who picked and powered his way through the Coyotes defense for 231 yards on 35 carries. He scored on runs of one, three, three, 48, and three yards, and added a two-point conversion.
“In the playoffs you want to put the ball in your best players’ hands,” said Mencarini, explaining why the multi-faceted Cougar offense relied so heavily on Joppy’s running. The soft-spoken Joppy deflected credit for his big night, saying “the O-line was opening huge holes.”
The Cougars also featured wideout Malcolm Brown in the wildcat formation, taking direct snaps and gaining 28 yards on 5 carries. More “getting the ball to your playmakers,” Mencarini said.
The game began ominously for QO as Clarksburg took the opening kickoff and marched 66 yards downfield on nine straight running plays, taking a 7-0 lead at 7:45 of the first quarter. The Red Army crowd stirred nervously, but the Cougars countered quickly with their own ground-based attack, tying the game on Joppy’s one-yard run.
“We had to make some adjustments,” Mencarini said of Clarksburg’s early success. And sure enough the Black Paw Defense stiffened and held the Coyotes to less than 60 yards rushing the rest of the night.
Meanwhile, QO scored on two of its next three possessions on short runs by Joppy and took a 20-7 lead into the locker room at halftime. The Cougars stayed on the ground and passed the ball only when necessary to keep drives alive. Quarterback Mike Murtaugh had an efficient 9-15 performance for 102 yards, including a 16-yard touchdown pass to Preston Bampoe-Addo on the opening drive of the second half, which essentially put the game out of reach at 28-7 with Joppy’s two-point conversion.
Clarksburg did not go down without a fight, however. A 10-yard scoring pass from Joe Nacci to Terrell Drakeford in the opening minute of the fourth quarter halved the score to 28-14. Joppy responded with a 48-yard scoring burst up the middle, but with 6:29 left Coyote running back Tavis Holland took a pitch and tossed a perfect pass to Bruno Anyangwe in the back of the end zone for a 21-yard score to again trim QO’s lead to two touchdowns.
Kyle Gregory recovered the ensuing squib kickoff, and QO marched methodically downfield behind key third down completions to receiver Elliott Davis and tight end Greg Williams. Joppy’s fifth touchdown accounted for the final margin.
Despite the win, Mencarini acknowledged that his team had work to do to prepare for Northwest. Clarksburg’s two second-half passing touchdowns exposed the same kind of vulnerabilities that Northwest exploited in their win. And, as Mencarini said bluntly of the Jaguars, “they beat the tar out of us last time.”
Northwest head coach Mike Neubeiser, a former QO assistant, also paid respect to his opponent. “Quince Orchard is one of the best programs in the state of Maryland … so we have our work cut out for us. They have a very explosive offense and stingy, well-disciplined defense. … They are a very talented team.”
This week, all the story lines converge. It’s the Battle of Great Seneca II, a neighborhood tussle between friends and rivals who got a little chippy last time they met. It’s the Rematch for the Regionals, a chance for QO to avenge their defeat three weeks earlier, end Northwest’s season, and advance to the state semis. It’s The Next to Last Hand in this all-in season as the Cougars bid to play at M&T Bank for the big stakes that have eluded them the past two years.
It’s Friday Night Lights at the Cougar Dome Nov. 22. Kickoff: 7 p.m.