In a big game between big rivals whose big men received the biggest pregame attention, it was two of the littlest guys on the field who made the biggest plays for Quince Orchard in their 21-7 victory over Damascus in Friday’s home opener.
Senior running back Marquez Cooper (5-foot-7, 190 pounds) scored all three QO touchdowns, ran for 174 yards, caught three passes for 26 yards, and became the school’s all-time leading ground-gainer on his three-yard, go-ahead touchdown run with 3:01 in the game.
And senior safety Toddreis Baltimore (5-foot-9, 165 pounds) intercepted a Damascus pass and returned it to the 10 in the second quarter, setting up QO’s first score and allowing the Cougars’ frustrated offense to redeem itself after two long first-half drives came up empty.
“This was a great win, but it’s only (one) win,” QO Coach John Kelley told his team after the game. “Proud of them, because we haven’t beaten these guys since 2013.”
On breaking the QO career record for yards gained rushing, an emotional Cooper said, “It means the world to me. … I have been working for this.” He paid tribute to his uncle and two friends who have died in recent years, including former QO teammate Tyler Terry.
The win lifted defending state champion QO to 2-0, and they retained their no. 3 spot in this week’s Washington Post rankings.
Damascus came into the game ranked eighth.
Friday night’s showdown had been hyped since it appeared on the schedule last summer. The Cougars and Swarmin’ Hornets are two of the metro area’s premier programs and had a fierce rivalry. Entering the season, only one Montgomery County opponent had beaten Damascus since 2011—QO in 2013—and the Hornets beat the Cougars in their past three meetings. The teams hadn’t faced each other since 2016.
The Cougar Dome atmosphere reflected the intensity of the renewed rivalry. Media photographers and reporters from local news outlets crowded the sidelines, and both student sections were packed an hour before kickoff. By midway through the game, the stadium was ringed more than five-deep with standing-room-only fans.
Adding to the crowd were scouts from college programs, as three of the top recruits in the country were on the field in Damascus lineman Brian Bresee (6-foot-5, 290 pounds), a Clemson commit and rated the nation’s top college recruit; his teammate, Ryan Linthicum (6-foot-4, 275 pounds), rated the number one center in the country; and QO’s Demeioun Robinson (6-foot-4, 220 pounds), rated the fourth-best prospect and top linebacker among college juniors with offers from some 20 Division-I programs.
Bresee lived up to his reputation, disrupting the QO offense as he penetrated the backfield all night.
Indeed, he and Cooper seemed to have their own game within the game. At times the shifty back would sidestep or run away from Bresee’s incursions. At other times Bresee would get to Cooper almost as quickly as he got the ball, either stuffing the play or steering him into the arms of other Damascus defenders.
Cooper and the Cougars got the best of it early.
After Damascus took the opening kickoff and went three and out, Cooper ran four times for 61 yards and carried QO to the 10. But an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty stifled the drive, a delay penalty added five more, and QO missed a 42-yard field goal.
Penalties plagued both teams all night, as the contest began chippy and officials seemed to call the game tight to keep it under control.
QO again stopped Damascus on its second drive, again moved the ball, and again penalties haunted them. A personal foul nullified a good punt return by Charles Bell and set QO back to their 18, and a QO penalty nullified a roughing call on the Hornets. Still, Cooper churned out gains of six, 10 and 15 yards, and aided by a face-mask penalty the Cougars were again in the red zone early in the second quarter. But Bresee and company stopped QO on fourth and three at the Damascus 14.
“First half I thought we should have 14 points on the board,” said Kelley, frustrated by QO’s inability to finish their opening drives.
Enter Baltimore and his timely interception, which quashed any momentum Damascus gained from their defensive stops and gave it back to the Cougars.
“Big time players make big time plays,” said Baltimore. When the pass went behind the receiver, “ball in the air, I got to go get it.”
Two five-yard runs from Cooper and QO had a 7-0 lead, which it took into the halftime as a late 42-yard Damascus field goal attempt fell short.
QO gained little on their first two drives of the second half as Bresee and the Hornets repeatedly stuffed the run and harassed Plummer on pass plays.
And, when Damascus broke a 51-yard TD run with 6:07 in the third quarter on their only big play of the night, suddenly the game was tied.
The Damascus crowd got noticeably louder and the Red Army quieter as the momentum appeared to be shifting. Hornets’ fans got louder still as a series of QO penalties thwarted one big play after another.
First, after a key third and nine completion to Ryan Swigart, three straight QO penalties took them back from midfield to the 20. Then, an ineligible receiver call nullified a 38-yard pass to the Damascus 17 from Plummer to tight end Justin Moran. Then, a roughing penalty cost them field position after senior lineman Steven Williams deflected a Damascus pass and junior linebacker Frank Yagaka intercepted it deep in Hornet territory. Finally and most deflating, the Cougars brought the explosive Bell into the game for a trick play in the fourth quarter, and his scintillating 41-yard reverse to the end zone was called back for an illegal block.
“The penalties were pretty disheartening,” Kelley said, “but it is what it is.”
As they had almost all night, however, the Cougar defense again stopped Damascus, and QO took over near midfield with 7:17 left, the game tied, and the place rocking.
This time QO got it right, driving downfield behind Cooper and a key first-down pass from Plummer to Ryan Luke. On third down, Cooper spun in from the three and QO regained the lead, 13-7, with 3:01.
But they kept it interesting. The Cougars failed to convert the extra point when the holder picked up the snap and misfired a pass into the end zone. Then QO was penalized on the kickoff for delay of game, and Damascus looked like it would get good field position.
But QO got a break when kicker Carson Burke pooched the kick into an open spot in the Damascus return alignment, and linebacker Steven Senga pounced on it to give the ball back to QO. Two plays later Cooper circled out of the backfield on a wheel route and Plummer hit him perfectly for the 22-yard touchdown to seal the win.
“I just felt like our side of the ball, man, we just wanted it more,” said Steven Williams. “We wanted to win.”
“Six minutes to go in the fourth quarter, and the game’s tied,” said Kelley. “That’s when you’ve got to really dig down and find who wants it more … so I was proud of our kids.”
QO’s next game is Friday night at home against Gaithersburg.