The storied Northwest-Quince Orchard football rivalry has been quite one-sided in recent history. Heading into their Class 4A state semifinal clash on Nov. 29, the defending state champion Cougars had won the teams’ previous six meetings dating back to 2015, and had outscored Northwest by a combined score of 92-13 over the last three games.
But the three-time state champion Jaguars (12-1), who are looking for their first title since winning back-to-back championships in 2013-14, abruptly turned the tables on their crosstown foe this postseason with a 22-13 upset victory in Gaithersburg. Northwest will face four-time state champion Henry A. Wise, which won three straight titles from 2015-17, in the championship game scheduled for Dec. 6 at 7:30 p.m. at the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis.
“To be honest I think we, the kids on the teams and the coaches, were the only ones who expected to win; I think everyone thought Quince Orchard was going to win,” Northwest coach Mike Neubeiser said. “I think even our own families were like, ‘Oh, man, you’ve got to play Quince Orchard?’ It had been a long time since we had beaten them, and they had been the better program. But I think our kids just realized that we were going to have to operate a little differently if we were going to beat them. They really worked hard and have been focusing on the little things.”
Northwest altered the recent dynamic of the teams’ matchup in the state semifinal by deviating from its usual spread offense to employ a heavier ground attack. Led by powerful senior running back Ajahni Terry (22 carries for 153 yards, two touchdowns), who Neubeiser said has great field vision, the Jaguars rushed for 253 yards and three touchdowns against a Quince Orchard team that had held its opponents to an average of 8.6 points per game.
And though Northwest’s army of talented receivers—anchored by Kaden Prather and Ryan Beach—didn’t see as many targets as they’re used to, their blocking, alongside a monstrous offensive line, played a major role in the Jaguars’ ability to move the ball upfield.
“Ajahni had a tremendous game and offensive line did a tremendous job blocking for him,” Neubeiser said. “(Quince Orchard’s) defense is extremely fast, and really good when they know you’re going to pass. So for us, we felt like our only chance was to run the ball, control the clock and limit them offensively.”
The Jaguars, who set the tone early, couldn’t have executed that game plan any better. Not only did Northwest produce nearly double the offense than its last three outings against Quince Orchard combined, but the Jaguars held the Cougars (12-1) to only 35 offensive plays—a number that is usually closer to 60 or 70, especially in big games, Neubeiser said. Quince Orchard, which averaged 52.5 points per game, had scored less than 50 points only three times in its first 12 games this fall.
“Our defense was unbelievable,” Neubeiser said. “Izajah Black had some huge hits. He was all over the field and had a lot of tackles. They were amazing. I can’t remember the last time (NCAA Division I recruit) Marquez Cooper was held to less than 100 yards. To hold him to that was incredible.”
Whatever happens in the state final, Northwest’s win over Quince Orchard renewed what had become a one-sided rivalry and could serve as a major swing in momentum for the Jaguars moving forward.
“I think it’s validation that the things we’re saying and working on are important,” Neubeiser said. “It gives meaning to everything we do. Hopefully we can build off this and continue to improve.”