By Kevin O’Rourke
There are three things which most championship games need. A big defensive stop, a game winning drive, and a championship winning drive. Last night, at M&T Bank Stadium the Northwest Jaguars displayed all of these during their victory over the Old Mill High School Patriots.
Northwest’s big defensive stop came at the tail end of the first-half. Both teams would trade touchdowns in the first quarter. Old Mill got the scoring started on their opening drive with a long run by senior receiver James Venerable. Northwest would counter on their first play scrimmage with a 75-yard pass from junior quarterback Mark Pierce to senior wide receiver Jamar Wilson, who ran under Pierce’s ball and ran away from the defense to put Northwest on the board.
The second quarter would see both teams trading touchdowns. Pierce would scamper 11-yards to put Northwest up 14-6, with the addition of a two-point conversion pass to Brendan Williams. Old Mill would answer with a touchdown pass from junior quarterback David Marrocco to senior running back Donovan Franklin, and two-point conversion of their own to even the score at 14-14.
After a bad punt set Northwest up at the Old Mill 35-yard line, senior running back E.J. Lee burst up the middle for the first of his two touchdowns on the first play from scrimmage. The two-point pass attempt would be called out-of-bounds. Jags lead 20-14.
The Jags big defensive stop would come on the next Old Mill drive. Old Mill would mount a balanced running and passing drive, highlighted by a big run by Franklin and a long pass from Marrocco to senior Brady Ludwig. The pass to Ludwig put the Patriots on Jags 15 yard line, but illegal motion penalty would push them back to the twenty. The Jag defense would step up pressuring Marrocco on two plays to throw incomplete to the endzone. Finally, on third and long Marrocco hit senior receiver Craig Winder, but Northwest’s leading tackler and senior linebacker Chuck Anya would force him out of bounds short of the first down marker. The Patriots were forced to settle for a field goal with seven seconds remaining in the first half.
That stop, holding Old Mill to three points, after they drove down to the 15 yard line, would become a massive stop, as the game played out. The Jags lead 20-17 at halftime and that three points would be the margin of victory.
The game winning drive started with 11:50 left in the game, after an Old Mill cut the Northwest lead to two points, 26-24, after a touchdown pass. The game winning drive would chew up two-minutes and 54-seconds of the fourth quarter. It would be the perfect microcosm of the Northwest offense this season. It was a balanced attack moving the ball on the ground and through the air, while taking advantage of opponent’s mistakes.
The Jaguar’s game winning drive started at the Northwest 25-yard line. The offense looked to E.J. Lee, who had already scored two touchdowns in the championship game, to churn out yardage and burn down clock. Lee answered the call, as he had all year. The first play of the drive was the beautiful Northwest sweep, which has been a staple in the offense all season. Guards senior Maxwell Hughes and junior Tariq Manna pulled and lead the run to the outside, with additional blocking from wide receiver senior Jordan Fairfax, Lee ran for eight yards. The next play sent Lee up the middle for the first down.
After going to Lee again for a tough two-yards, Pierce threw a beautiful slant pass to senior wide receiver Brandon Williams to move the ball to mid-field. Old Mill took a terrible late hit penalty by hitting Lee out-of-bounds on the next play which gave the Jags first-and-ten on the Old Mill 31-yard line. Pierce connected with senior Jamar Wilson in the flat, Wilson would break a tackle and sprint for a first down.
Northwest went back to the running game and Lee pounded the ball up the middle to the Old Mill eight-yard line, and the Patriots had to take a time out.
The next play started with a nifty play-action fake to Lee. Pierce then rolled out to his right and found a wide open Brandon Williams in the end zone. The Jags extended their lead to 10 points, making it a two score game with a two-point conversion off an option pitch to Lee. Northwest led 34-24.
The game winning drive was a counter-punch in a game which saw two teams punching and counter-punching all night. Old Mill High School from Millersville in Ann Arundel County came into the game 11-2, avenging early season losses to Broadneck and Arundel in the regional playoffs, and beating Howard High school in the state semi-finals.
Old Mill would continue to fight answering Northwest, on fourth down Marrocco would find junior receiver Camari Wilkerson for a 37-yard pass that would put Old Mill at the Northwest one yard-line. Marrocco would add the touchdown on a QB sneak to cut the Northwest lead to 34-31.
E.J. Lee returned the kickoff to the Old Mill 35, but a dead ball foul moved it back. Northwest would start their championship winning drive at their own 47-yard line with 6:08 remaining the game.
A drive that wins a championship must have a little bit of everything; passing, rushing, success, adversity, and a bit of magic and must show the world why your team should win the championship. Northwest’s championship drive did all those things. The drive would start with Northwest’s bread-and-butter play, the sweep to Lee to the right with guards Patterson and Manna leading the way for eight yards. Northwest called the same play to the other side, but Lee would cut it up the middle for a first down.
Pierce handed to Lee again but this time, Old Mill’s senior linebacker Malik Hicks met him in the backfield for a loss of six. Pierce took to the air and hit senior Aaron-David Beidleman on the slant for seven yards on second down. On third down, from the Old Mill 41-yard line, Northwest took a shot deep and missed bringing up fourth-and-eight.
Time for a little bit of magic. Northwest lined up in punt formation, with punter Jamar Wilson and E.J. Lee as the up-back with 3:47 left to play. The snap would go to Lee, and Old Mill thought they had the fake sniffed as they collapsed on the Northwest all-star running back. But, Lee pitched it left to Wilson coming around the end, who would run it down to the Old Mill 30 for the Northwest first down.
Old Mill would recover from the shock of the fake punt and stuffed E.J. Lee on two runs, bringing up third-and-seven at the Old Mill 27. Pierce would then fire a perfect slant pass to Beidleman again, who caught it on the run, despite fantastic coverage from the Old Mill defender. The pass gave the Jags first-and-ten on the Old Mill 12 yard line with less than two minutes remaining.
Old Mill’s Hicks would sniff out an end-around to Wilson for a loss of five.
After an Old Mill timeout, on second-and-fifteen with 1:53 remaining in the championship, Pierce would hit Lee with a swing pass. Lee scampered to the Old Mill two yard line, setting up third-and-one from the two. Pierce called his own number and powered one yard for the first down and the championship.
The championship winning drive ended with Northwest taking two knees and their second straight championship at M&T Bank Stadium.
Captions: The Northwest Jaguars celebrate after winning their second straight Maryland 4A State Championship with a 34-31 champion victory over Old Mill at M&T Bank Stadium on Friday night.
Next: Northwest’s junior quarterback Mark Pierce (11) drops back to throw his first touchdown pass to Brendan Williams in the first quarter.
Next: Pierce (11) scampers for an 11-yard Jaguar’s touchdown.
Next: Northwest’s defense stood tough at the end of the second half to force Old Mill to settle for a field goal.
Next: Senior running back E.J. Lee (23) runs for his first of two touchdowns in the championship game.
Next: E.J. Lee (23) follows pulling guards senior T.J. Patterson (60) and junior Tariq Manna (56) for the Northwest sweep.
Next: Senior wide receiver Brandon Williams (10) hauls in Mark Pierce touchdown pass to cap the Jag’s game winning drive.
Next: Northwest’s wide receiver and punter, senior Jamar Wilson takes a pitch from E.J. Lee on a fake punt on a fourth down to keep the Jaguar’s championship winning drive alive.