If there’s a recurring theme for the Quince Orchard football team as they prepare for Friday’s Maryland 4A state championship game against Wise it is this: redemption.
“Redemption! Redemption! Redemption!” quarterback Doc Bonner shouted to his teammates in their postgame victory huddle last Friday after soundly beating North Point, 40-21, in the state semifinal and earning a rematch with Wise, who beat QO 42-7 in last year’s title contest and knocked Bonner out of the game with a neck injury.
“Redemption. Redemption,” senior right tackle Ramsey Richey responded when asked what it means to him to play in this year’s final at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis. Last year, Richey sat forlornly on the QO bench watching his teammates warm up before the final, his leg in a brace from an early season knee injury.
Redemption for Coach John Kelley and the Cougars when two weeks ago they beat archrival Northwest for the regional title in the Cougar Dome and avenged previous home losses to the Jaguars in 2013, 2014 and 2015.
Redemption for QO’s defensive backfield that was victimized by several long passes earlier in the season but has collected eight interceptions in three playoff games, including sophomore Ronnell Dennis Jr.’s 80-yard pick six against North Point.
“We still have one more game to do it and … finish it right this time,” said Bonner, who ran for two touchdowns, threw for two, and even caught a touchdown pass against North Point and has made returning to the championship a personal crusade. “As a team and myself: Finish … because last year I got knocked out.”
QO’s coaches entered the semifinal knowing that North Point had talented athletes, especially versatile quarterback Jemichael Jones. But they also knew that the Eagles—undefeated and 6th ranked by the Washington Post—had never faced a power team like QO with its many offensive weapons.
They were right on all counts. Bonner, Richey and their teammates on offense played perhaps their most complete game this season in amassing 475 total yards, almost evenly split on the ground and in the air. The Black Paw defense contained Jones and stifled his teammates, visibly wearing them down.
North Point actually scored first, as Jones led an 80-yard first quarter touchdown drive. But the Cougars answered 30 seconds later on three Bonner pass plays capped by a 33-yard completion to Brendan McGonagle to tie the score. A short Bonner run set up by Aaron Derwin’s interception stretched the lead to 14-7 at halftime.
QO broke it open in the third quarter. Bonner hit Tre Wade in stride for a 64-yard score. Davis had his pick six, which he later described as “magic.” And Bonner caught his first touchdown pass of the season on one of QO’s rare trick plays — an 18-yard flea flicker from McGonagle.
“I’ve never done it before,” said McGonagle, who has been on the receiving end of 10 touchdown passes this year. “We’ve been practicing it for like two weeks now and it went 50-50 in practice, and we just didn’t know if it was going to work out in the game.”
Important as it was, the North Point win was almost anticlimactic after QO’s emotional victory over Northwest one week earlier.
“This is one of the biggest games of my coaching career,” said Kelley after the win. “We lost to them three times in a row,” he said, referring to the previous regional final showdowns. “That didn’t sit well with me. We needed to get over that stigma.”
The Cougars fell behind 13-0, but retained their composure as Bonner, defensive lineman Desmond Johnson, and other team leaders patrolled the sideline keeping their teammates loose.
They benefitted from a roughing the kicker penalty in the second quarter and scored on a fake jet sweep as Bonner charged 49 yards untouched down the middle. An Aaron Green interception got the ball back with less than a minute in the half and set up a short touchdown pass to running back Marquez Cooper to give QO a 14-13 lead at the half.
Northwest came back in the third quarter to take a 20-17 advantage, but QO owned the fourth quarter and scored on a 9-yard Bonner touchdown run and 19-yard jaunt by Cooper. Green’s second interception clinched the win.
“I had to make it up to my team,” Green said, blaming himself for Northwest’s two first quarter scores as well as for the loss to Bullis. “I told my team, ‘I’m going to make it up to you.’”
“I thought we overcame a lot of adversity,” Kelley said, not only being behind twice but also overcoming 13 penalties for over 100 yards. “I was very, very proud of our kids.”
The resilience QO (12-1) has shown in coming back twice against Northwest, against North Point, and against Bullis in taking that game into overtime can help them against top-ranked Wise, which has won 41 straight games and is playing for its third straight title.
Derwin, Green, Dennis, and their secondary mates Nahiem Howell, Seckret Murphy and Charles Bell must continue to play tough to contain Wise’s talented receivers, including Anthony Lytton, who is headed to Florida State.
Richey, Mikey Fierstein and their offensive linemates will need to continue to open holes for Bonner and Cooper, who each gained over 100 yards against North Point.
But ultimately it all comes down to Bonner. The Dartmouth-bound three-year starter holds virtually every QO career quarterbacking record, including 90 total touchdowns, 55 passing TDs, almost 5,000 passing yards and over 6,600 yards of total offense. Many commentators call him the best quarterback in the state, and his performance in the playoffs so far has cemented that claim.
In his last game as a Cougar, Bonner will return to the scene of last year’s disappointment, in the same stadium, against the same opponent, and for the same stakes as when his two first-half fumbles put QO in a hole even before the hit that took him out of the game and to a hospital.
This is his second chance, his chance at redemption.
“I just have to go all out, put everything on the line,” he said. “Everything on the line and go out … the right way.”