When this year’s Maryland high school football playoff bracket was published last week, one potential matchup stood out from the rest — Northwest versus Quince Orchard for the 4A West regional championship and the right to advance to the state semifinals.
But before that, both teams needed to win in their opening playoff round Friday night to advance to the regional championship.
Northwest did its part, thrashing Winston Churchill 56-20 at Walt Whitman High School’s Jerome M. Marco Stadium in Bethesda Friday night and earning a spot in next week’s 4A West regional title game.
“We had a lot of fortunate bounces that went our way, and Churchill’s a very good team, but our kids came to play, and they were focused,” head coach Mike Neubeiser said. “They had a great week of practice, and it showed today.”
The Bulldogs’ (9-2) only regular-season loss this year was a 40-28 defeat to the Jaguars (9-2) at home on Oct. 5. In that game, the Bulldogs rallied to tie it at 28-28 with six and a half minutes left in regulation until two Jag touchdowns put the game out of reach.
In Friday night’s meeting, Northwest was already leading Churchill by 50 points when there were six and a half minutes left in the game.
“We had guys out of position last time we played, so our kids really focused this week on that, and I think that really helped us defensively,” Neubeiser said. “Offensively, I think we just executed a little better; we were cleaner. We didn’t have as many penalties until late in the second quarter once we’d gotten up a little bit.”
After the Bulldogs punted on their opening possession, the Jaguars’ offense got hot quick, as a 30-yard run by senior running back Roderick James set up a 25-yard touchdown pass from sophomore quarterback Jordan Morse to senior wide receiver Andrew Howard with just under nine minutes left in the first quarter.
Churchill would fumble the ball away on the first play of its next drive, giving Northwest possession at the Churchill 36-yard line. Morse would eventually connect with senior tight end DeAndre Jules from seven yards out to put Northwest up 14-0 with six and a half minutes remaining in the quarter.
The Bulldogs’ offense finally found some rhythm on their next drive, as senior quarterback Michael Janis found junior wide receiver Gabriel Moore for a 44-yard touchdown. Jules blocked the Bulldogs’ extra point attempt, leaving the score at 14-6 with five and a half minutes in the quarter.
Northwest didn’t wait long to respond, as Howard returned the ensuing kickoff 83 yards for his team’s third touchdown of the quarter, increasing the lead to 21-6.
The Bulldogs punted again on their next drive, allowing the red-hot Jaguars offense to get another shot at the end zone. James ended up scoring his second touchdown of the quarter, this time from 20 yards out, to put the Jaguars up 28-6 with just under two and a half minutes left in the first quarter.
Churchill’s offense was forced to punt once more to close out the quarter. Northwest would drive down into Churchill territory on its next possession until it faced a fourth-and-20 from the Churchill 38-yard line.
Morse would find senior wide receiver A.J. Woods in the end zone for a 38-yard touchdown pass, increasing the Jags’ lead to 35-6 with nine and a half to go until halftime. The Jags’ seniors would end up scoring all but one of their team’s touchdowns on the night.
“They want to keep playing together, and they realize if we have a letup in any way that we’re turning our equipment in the next day, so I don’t think they want to do that,” Neubeiser said.” They want to keep playing as long as they can together.”
Things only got worse for the Bulldogs from that point, as a muffed kickoff return deflected off a Bulldogs player and ended up being recovered by the Jags at the Bulldogs’ 40-yard line.
Northwest scored once again on its next drive, courtesy of a 23-yard rushing touchdown by James for his third of the half with just over seven minutes remaining in the second quarter.
After another Bulldogs punt, the Jaguars got within striking distance again. Facing a fourth-and-goal from the 13-yard line, the Jags committed their only turnover of the night when Morse threw an interception in the end zone for a touchback.
Neither offense found much rhythm in the final minutes of the second quarter, leaving the score at 42-6 heading into halftime. Given Northwest’s sizable lead, a running clock would be used for the second half.
With senior quarterback Jack Anders starting in the third quarter, the Northwest offense continued to groove, eventually scoring on a 21-yard rushing touchdown by junior running back Ajahni Terry to make it 49-6 with six and a half minutes left in the quarter.
The Bulldogs fumbled the ball away again after a third-and-12 from their own 43-yard line, allowing the Jags to set up shop at the 41-yard line in the final seconds of the third quarter.
The fourth quarter began with Howard matching James for his own touchdown hat trick, scoring on a 36-yard pass from Anders just 13 seconds into the quarter for Northwest’s biggest lead of the night, 56-6.
Churchill would add two late scores later in the quarter, but couldn’t entirely erase their huge deficit, falling to Northwest 56-20 for the second time this season.
“I’m just really proud of our defense,” Neubeiser said. “Our offense played well too, and Jordan stepped up and made some great plays, but I was really proud of our defense stepping up and slowing those guys down. [Churchill has] a really good offense, and [for us] to play the way that they did tonight was a big deal.”
With Quince Orchard’s 42-10 win over Richard Montgomery in the other regional semifinal, the highly-anticipated matchup in the 4A West championship is set.
Neubeiser knows his team’s win Friday night was an important step for preparing to face their bitter rival.
“It gives you positive reinforcement that we worked hard, and it paid off, so in that way, I think the kids know if we work really, really hard, good things will happen,” he said. “We’ll need to do that this week because Quince Orchard’s one heck of a football team.”
Northwest and Quince Orchard will clash for the 4A West regional championship — their sixth playoff meeting in the last seven years — next week at The Cougar Dome in Gaithersburg.
The Jaguars haven’t beaten the Cougars since the 2015 regional final, en route to their most recent state semifinal appearance. The Cougars have won the last four meetings, including their most recent, which was a 41-6 drubbing at the Black Hole on Oct. 25. Kickoff for next week’s rematch is scheduled for 7:00 pm on Friday, Nov. 16.
Top: Andrew Howard (2) scored three times in Friday’s playoff victory over Churchill, including an 83-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.
Next: Senior Jags’ running back Roderick James (4) had three rushing touchdowns on Friday night in Northwest’s 56-20 victory over Churchill.
Next: Sophomore quarterback Jordan Morse (12) would throw three touchdowns in the playoff game to three different receivers.
Next: In the fourth quarter, senior Northwest quarterback Jack Anders (8) threw a 36-yard pass to receiver Andrew Howard for Howard’s third touchdown of the game.
Next: Junior running back Ajahni Terry (5) ran for a 21-yard touchdown to make the score 49-6 in the fourth quarter.
Photos by Germantown Pulse