Coach Mike Neubeiser's Northwest Jaguars, are the best three-loss football team in the country as they proved in Friday night’s thrilling 50-40 victory over Quince Orchard to advance to the 4A State Semi-Finals.
The Jags lost three games this year to three other teams that all made the post-season — Seneca Valley, Sherwood, and this Quince Orchard team. After last night, Northwest is the only team whose hopes of winning a state championship remain alive.
While no one is shocked by this because Neubeiser’s Jags are two-time defending 4A Maryland State Champs. But if you step back and look at how improbable it is for this team to be in this situation, you see how impressive this Northwest team really is.
“Our kids were resilient,” said Neubeiser.
For the third year in a row, the Jags had to travel to the Cougar Dome and face their bitter rival in the Regional Finals, after losing to them in the regular season. Yes, this is the third year in a row that Northwest defeated Quince Orchard to advance in the state playoffs after losing to them in the regular season.
It is no coincidence that this is the third year in a row that Mark Pierce had been the quarterback for Northwest. Pierce said the Northwest team met Quince Orchard in the playoffs had a different mentality than the team the lost to them on Oct. 16.
“In the regular season we didn’t really know who we were as a team, yet, when we played them the first time,” said Pierce. “We were very young. We made so many mistakes. After that game, we realized that if we were going to compete with them again because we knew we were going to be back there for the regional final – it happens like that every year. We knew if we wanted to beat them, we had to practice hard and have a different mentality.”
The Jags needed to be resilient right out of the gate, a Northwest penalty on the opening kickoff gave Quince Orchard the ball at midfield. A few plays later the Cougars quarterback Doc Bonner would score on the first possession of the game to stake Quince Orchard with a 7-0 lead.
But Pierce and Northwest answered back with a 9-yard quarterback keeper of his own on the Jags first possession to even the score at 7-7.
Quince Orchard would score twice more in the first half, with Bonner breaking a 73 touchdown run to give the Cougars a 21-7 lead, but Northwest would show that resilience again, storming back to find the end zone twice more before halftime. Freshman running back Juwon Farri’s 62-yard run would set up a four-yard touchdown plunge from sophomore Kahlil Owens to cut the lead to 21-14.
The Jags defense would force a Quince Orchard punt. On the ensuing possession, Pierce would hit senior receiver Ibrahim Konate for a 67-yard touchdown strike to even the score at 21 apiece going into halftime. True to form a Jaguar does not look back, or loose focus.
“We have good senior leadership,” said Neubeiser about his team’s resiliency. “The younger kids are growing up and stepping up and learning how to play football.”
The second half was a real battle of the heart, with both teams playing good football. Each touchdown was answered right back by the other team. Northwest again had a difficult time controlling Quince Orchard’s running game, and Quince Orchard could not keep up with the arm of Mark Pierce.
“Defensively, our guys did a real good job,” said Neubeiser. “Quince Orchard came out and did some things that they haven’t shown the whole year offensively, and they kept us on our heels a little bit defensively. They did a tremendous job using their running quarterback, and formation-wise they mixed in a lot of things that they have never shown before. It was tough they had a lot more of a spread game. We had to adjust.”
The second half would see the lead change five times before the final whistle. Quince Orchard’s Bonner would rush for over 200 yards and four touchdowns. It was Bonner’s 57-yard touchdown run that gave QO a 33-28 lead to begin the fourth stanza. The Northwest defense would come up big to stop the two-point conversion.
It would be Pierce’s arm, and legs would bring the Jags back again as he connected on a pass 34-yard touchdown pass to junior Alphonso Foray, and then ran for the two-point conversion to give the Jags a 36-33 lead.
Quince Orchard would answer back again to reclaim the lead 40-36 with just over six minutes remaining in the game.
The next Northwest possession would be pivotal. Starting at their own 25 down by four with less than six minutes in the game. On second down, Pierce is sacked for a loss and hits Konate for a short gainer to bring up fourth down. On fourth down, deep in his own territory, with the Quince Orchard Red Army in full throat, Pierce would call his own number and run for the first down to keep the Jags hopes alive.
“Our offensive line and Marky made plays when he had to,” said Neubeiser. “When we needed first downs he got them. We went on fourth down, and he got it with his legs, and it was huge.”
The Jags drive would continue as Pierce would hand to Farri for a short gain and then hit Owens to bring the ball to midfield. The freshman Farri would power the ball down the Cougar 29 yard line, from there Owens would finish the drive with two more runs, the second a four-yard touchdown to give the Jags a 43-40 lead with 2:05 remaining in the game.
With the Jags up by three, with the clock winding past two minutes, the Bonner, and the Cougars were faced with a fourth-and-six down, Quince Orchard would gamble. The Jags defense would flush Bonner out of the pocket. Under heavy pressure, as senior defensive lineman Alex Thomas was wrapping him up, Bonner would attempt to throw a pass that would be intercepted by junior linebacker Sam Pagella at the QO 25-yard line. He would return the pick to the one-yard line.
The Jags would take over at the Quince Orchard one-yard line, up by three with 1:05 remaining in the game. The next play, Owens would score his second touchdown to seal the victory. Nicholas Nicolas’ extra point would sail right down the middle of the uprights to end the scoring at 50-40.
“Our coaching is great, Coach Sickeri does a great job,” said Pierce referring to Jags offensive coordinator Justin Sickeri. “It is amazing when you only score seven points in the first game, and then you score 50 in the playoff game. It shows how much we have improved, and we just have to keep rolling.”
The 9-3 Jaguars will advance to the Maryland State Semi-Finals for the third year in a row. Next week they will travel to Upper Marlboro to face the 12-0 Wise Pumas, who defeated Eleanor Roosevelt 33-14 on Friday night.
“This win means a lot,” said Pierce. “Especially with this team. I have led this team. As a senior, if we would have lost that game I would have been heartbroken. You never want to end your season with a loss. With my experiences and the experience of all the seniors on this team — we have been here before, and we know how to act — we try to guide these young guys. Hopefully, we can go to Wise and get the job done.”
Mark Poetker contributed to this report.
Top: Northwest’s freshman running back Juwon Farri (8) carries the ball in Friday night’s regional final game at Quince Orchard.
Next: Senior quarterback Mark Pierce (11) gets up after running the ball. He threw for three touchdowns and ran for another, as well as scoring a pivotal two-point conversion.
Next: Northwest’s senior linebacker Caleb Gills (16) zeros in on Quince Orchard’s Shawn Barlow (1).
Next: Junior running back Kahlil Owens (4) celebrates after the Jags 50-40 victory.
Next: Northwest Head Coach Mike Neubeiser lifts the Regional Championship plaque after the win.
Photos by Mark Poetker for Germantown Pulse.