When Quince Orchard beat Northwest five weeks ago in the regular season, all the QO coaches and players said the same thing: “We’ll play them again” in the playoffs, when it really mattered.
They were right. And last Friday in the state semifinal game before a full house at the Cougar Dome, Northwest played like the hungrier, more aggressive and better prepared team and beat defending state champion QO, 22-13, earning the right to face Wise in Annapolis this Friday for the 4A state title.
“I thought they did a great job,” said QO coach John Kelley after the game. “Give credit to them, their coaches and their players.”
Many QO players were inconsolable after the game. They had entered 12-0, winning most of their games by lopsided margins as they aimed to repeat as state champs.
But it wasn’t just that they lost that left QO’s players and coaches stunned and disappointed. It was how Northwest beat them. Simply put, they beat QO at their own game. Normally a passing team, the Jaguars ran right at QO on Friday. They played smashmouth football, the style that QO likes to play.
And they did it better than QO. Northwest amassed 253 yards on the ground and three touchdowns, while QO had only 54 yards rushing. And the normally prolific Cougar offense had only 149 total yards and one touchdown, which came on a busted coverage.
“We tried to simplify things a little bit offensively,” said Northwest coach Mike Neubeiser. “We tried to pound them and just made it kind of what … we called a street fight. So we just came out and … tried to control the football and keep their offense off the field as much as possible and win the field position battle.”
Said Kelley: “I just thought they were more physical than us tonight.”
Anyone who knows the recent history of Northwest vs. Quince Orchard shouldn’t have been surprised by the upset.
QO has beaten Northwest the past six times and played in the last three state title games. But in the three years before that, Northwest had knocked off QO in three consecutive regional final games at the Cougar Dome, even though the Cougars had beaten them in the regular season.
Fans got an inkling this wasn’t going to be QO’s night when their sensational and usually sure-handed running back, Marquez Cooper, fumbled on the opening play from scrimmage. The Jaguars recovered at QO’s 33 and pounded the ball straight to the end zone, with Ajahni Terry scoring on a short run.
QO responded immediately, however, as Charles Bell took the ensuing kickoff and bolted an electrifying 95 yards to the end zone. QO botched the extra-point snap, and the score was 6-6.
The huge crowd lining the Cougar Dome, which had been building well before kick-off, settled in for what looked like a heavyweight slugfest. Northwest mounted a long drive on the ground and kicked a 26-yard field goal when the drive stalled, and had a 9-6 lead after one quarter.
The Jaguars mounted another long drive early in the second period, and a quarterback keeper by Jordan Morse gave them a 16-6 lead at the 8:33 mark. But QO responded with a minute before halftime on a 45-yard pass from Brian Plummer to Ryan Swigart, who was wide open as Northwest missed the coverage.
The score remained 16-13 after a scoreless third quarter, as Northwest’s defense continued to stymie QO’s ground game and pressure Plummer when he tried to pass. QO was also hampered after Swigart and fellow wide receiver Ryan Luke left the game with leg injuries. Without both of their starting wideouts, QO’s passing options were limited.
The Jaguars sealed the game midway through the fourth quarter, the key play coming on a 12-yard, fourth-and-seven completion from Morse to Ryan Beach to the QO six-yard line. There, Terry took it in for his second touchdown at 6:18, giving NW the 22-13 final margin as the extra point was blocked.
It was an especially disappointing loss for QO’s seniors, including all-state candidate Cooper, who was held to 57 yards on 18 carries. He finished the season with 2,038 yards rushing, averaging over nine yards per carry.
And it was an especially satisfying win for the white-clad legion of Jaguar students, who maintained a loud, lively, and organized cheering presence all night, starting an hour before game time and soundly outdoing QO’s Red Army in the battle of the student sections.
Now Neubeiser and the Jaguar fans look forward to meeting Wise in Friday night’s final at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. Neubeiser has a personal connection to Wise: He and their head coach, DaLawn Parrish, were college football teammates at Wake Forest.
“So we know each other very well,” Neubeiser said with a smile. “I’m excited to play them.”
For QO, as Kelley told them after the game, “they got a lot to hang their hat on, they’ve had a lot of success,” playing in the past three state championship games, winning last year, and finishing this season 12-1.
“It is a special rivalry,” Neubeiser said of the Northwest/Quince Orchard showdowns. “Two great programs. And they’ve won a lot lately … so we were just hoping to swing it back in our favor.”