When Quince Orchard lost to Northwest, 28-20, in the 4A West Region Final two weeks ago, it ended their season with 10 wins and two losses and ranked in the top 20 in the Washington Post’s poll of local high school teams. Those two losses were both to the Northwest Jaguars, this week playing for the state championship at M&T Bank Stadium. For most teams, QO’s season would count as a remarkably successful one.
But for a Quince Orchard program that had set its sights on a third straight trip to the state final and a second title in six years, one could feel the disappointment over not getting there. And maybe that’s the double-edged sword that QO carries. They have set such a high standard and developed a pipeline of such talent that each season they are expected to be among the teams contending for a spot at M&T Bank Stadium.
But for a group of 15-, 16- and 17-year old boys who, behind those pads and helmets, are still just kids, that’s an awful lot of expectation. As one dad said, “There are other great teams out there. Any bad play can trip you up.”
As head Coach Dave Mencarini has said often, “Kids are kids. … You never know what kids will do.”
So in looking back at the Cougars’ season, one has to emphasize the team’s success. They were at times dominant, outscoring opponents 406 to 47 in their 10 wins. Quarterback Mike Murtaugh rebounded from a serious knee injury to put together an efficient season, completing 60 percent of his passes for over 1,500 yards and 21 touchdowns. Running back/receiver Kevin Joppy ran for over 1,000 yards, caught a dozen passes for another 150 yards, and scored 19 touchdowns. Seniors Elliott Davis, Malcolm Brown and Kyle Gregory and junior Adam McLean have received scholarship offers from Division I schools, and Joppy is drawing interest. Seniors Connor Tilton, Bradley Walker and Ben Brown anchored a tough defense, and the blockers led by guard Scott Mongold and fullback Kyle Manion, also seniors, opened holes and kept Murtaugh clean.
Moreover, a core of talented underclassmen emerged. Freshman Khalil Sewell and sophomore Shawn Green played significant minutes on the defensive line and will join McLean up front next year to anchor another imposing Black Paw Defense. Diminutive running backs Shawn Barlow (a sophomore) and Kyle Green (a junior) flashed big-play potential and next year will run behind center Max Ward, tight end Greg Williams and fullback Eisley Kim, all sophomores. Once again, the 2014 Cougars will have high expectations.
Mencarini asked his team to go all-in this season, and no one can question their effort or resilience. They played every game, as many of them said, “with a target on our backs” and found ways to win even when they were not playing their best. When they were down two touchdowns to NW in the final two minutes, they rallied to score in the final minute, and only a controversial call on a squib kick kept them from getting the ball back with a chance to tie.
In Northwest, the Cougars encountered an opponent that was talented, just as fast and a lot looser. Northwest made fewer mistakes, and when they needed to make a play, they did. QO didn’t. In the end, maybe the weight of those expectations was just a little too heavy for a group of kids to carry.