After 24 months of uncertainty, heartache, and abbreviated seasons, the MPSSAA football state championships are back. Some teams played a game last fall, some played several games in the spring, and a couple of lucky ones got to play six or seven in March and April. The pandemic brought change to the 2021 post-season, giving everyone an opportunity, and expanding from four classifications to six, in a one time deal. Nonetheless, the state championships are back, and players, coaches and fans couldn’t be any happier, especially the coaches, who’d rather conduct practice through Zoom.
Wise coach DaLawn Parrish – “It feels good to finally get back to some semblance of normalcy with football. I am happy the state did all it could to make sure that the kids have a state championship to look forward to. For me personally, it has been an exhausting year.
Quince Orchard coach John Kelley – “It’s very special to have the state championship games back ! 2020 was a very hard year for football players and coaches here in MD . To be able to get back to some sense of normalcy with high school football is just very special.”
Dundalk coach Matt Banta – We were fortunate to have a spring season this year which has propelled us to where we are now. Our bond as a team has been the glue that got us to this point. The kids have a true brotherhood established that grew stronger during the pandemic.”
Linganore coach Rick Conner, who like Parrish and Kelley, has been here before – “Playing in December means you have a special team, We have been fortunate at Linganore to have many outstanding players and assistant coaches who are skilled teachers of football.”
Rich Holzer of Northern – “It has been a welcomed return to normal for the kids. They have dealt with a lot these last 23 months and I think they are super excited because it signifies normal HS life for them and that we seem to be getting over the hysteria. Our kids have been extremely dedicated and perseverant. They have figured out a way to stay together and focused.”
South Carroll coach Mike Kraus – Any time your team and program have the opportunity to be playing in December it is awesome, having an opportunity to win a state championship for our school, community, and program, is a memory that will never be forgotten, and will be talked about for years to come.”
Zach Alkire, in his first year at one of the most legendary programs in the state at Fort Hill – “Playing in December has been and always is the goal each and every season for our program. Besides the Covid restrictions, that’s what made last years spring season so difficult. We were asking kids to come to work out in small groups, work out with masks on l, and basically not be kids.”
This week, kids get to be kids.
Here are the six state championship games taking place at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.
4A – Friday 7:30PM
Quince Orchard Cougars (13-0) v Wise Pumas (12-0)
Coaches – Wise DaLawn Parrish 17th season (15th at Wise, 164-33) 168-49, 35-7 p/o; Quince Orchard 8th season 84-10, 18-5
Points per game – Points allowed per game / Point differential – Wise 43.6-6.3/ +37.3; Quince Orchard 40.6-7.3/ +33.3
MPSSAA playoff history – Wise 35-7, 5-2 in state final; Quince Orchard 38-15, 3-4
The Pumas and Cougars, for all the marbles. Again.
The last two state champions in the 4A classification square off for a fourth time in nine years in the 4A title game, not including a 2018 state semifinal game. Few can match the success of Wise Head Coach DaLawn Parrish and Quince Orchard Head Coach John Kelley in the history of MPSSAA history. Few Maryland public school teams can match the talent these two juggernauts have offered for a decade-plus.
Wise has had the upper hand in the series so far, winning all three of title game matchups, but Quince Orchard dominated the last meeting between the two, winning 31-6 in a 2018 4A state semifinal, before the Cougars went on to capture their third state championship in their program’s history. Wise has won four of the last five 4A state titles, with the Cougars 2018 state championship standing as the only interruption in the Pumas remarkable run since 2015. Coach Kelley says, “It’s an honor to share the field with Wise and Coach Parrish. What Coach Parrish has accomplished at Wise is amazing.”
Wise has gone 76-1 versus MPSSAA opponents since the opener of 2015, with the only loss coming in that 2018 state semifinal. Says Coach Parrish, “It’s tough playing a program like Quince Orchard in the state championship game, as it feels like another county opponent, because we’ve faced them so many times. You have to make adjustments fast with the short week, and they’ll make you work for your adjustments at halftime.” Kelley loves the challenge as well, “We’ve been fortunate to play them on what seems like a yearly basis for six years now. It’s always a great hard fought game, and we’re looking for to competing with the Pumas this Friday.”
Notably, this is the first meeting between the two where both enter the clash boasting undefeated records. In 2012, the Pumas beat a 1-loss Cougars team, 12-7, in the title game. The Cougars came in with a 12-1 record in both the ‘16 and ‘17 championship games, before the Pumas claimed their third and forth state titles, respectively. In the latter, the Cougars led 14-13 after three quarters, before the Pumas poured in 25 points in the final stanza to walk away with a 38-20 victory. In 2018, the Pumas had suffered an early season loss to Calvert Hall before falling to the Cougars.
The Pumas advanced to this state championship game with a 28-6 win over #4 Flowers, breaking open a 7-0 game with three straight touchdowns in the fourth quarter, before a late Jaguars score with a minute to go. The game was a defensive stalemate, until Pumas senior Nik McMillan (Buffalo commit) opened the scoring with a 11 yard end around in the second quarter, the only score of the game until the Pumas barrage in the fourth quarter. McMillan also intercepted a Jaguars pass, one of four turnovers the Pumas forced the Jags into. “Nikolas has been a beast for us, and he’s willing to put his face in there, and get dirty in real football plays”, says Parrish. The Pumas began the fourth quarter with Traevon Mitchell rambling for 20 yards, all 5’11 275 of him. Mitchell followed that with a 20 yard score, and the Pumas went up, 14-0. The Jags fumbled the ensuing kickoff, and the flood gates opened. Pumas senior quarterback Jayden Sauray found Amare Wimbush from seven yards out to give the Pumas a 21-0 lead. It would be the seventh time in their ten games on the field the Pumas would hold their opponents to seven points or less. Parrish was off to his sixth straight 4A state championship game in six post-seasons, and eighth in twelve.
Sauray, the Maryland commit, will go down as one of the greatest Pumas to ever play, having never lost as a starting quarterback for the Pumas, posting a 26-0 record over the ‘19 and ‘21 seasons. Sauray very well could be coming into this game 40-0, had their been a 2020 season. This season, Sauray has completed 94 of 128 passes, at an astounding 73.4% completion rate, for 1825 yards, with 29 touchdowns and four interceptions. That efficiency produces a 141.3 quarterback rating for the Maryland commit. To add, Sauray has rushed for 466 yards and six touchdowns on 42 carries this season. In 24 starts (not including two forfeit wins this season), Sauray has thrown for 3,813 yards, with 59 touchdowns and nine interceptions, and together with his rushing yards and scores, has accounted for 4,747 yards and 76 touchdowns in his abbreviated Pumas career. His career completion percentage will be just a hair below 70%, and his career quarterback rating will be somewhere in the 137-139 range. The Pumas average scoring 43.6 points per game, which ranks third in the MPSSAA.
Says Parrish, “Jayden has meant everything to our program. His ability to lead others and to accept his mistakes has meant everything to our younger players. He has been the glue that has held us together over the last year-plus, when we weren’t allowed to do anything with football.”
McMillan is Sauray’s top target, hauling in 38 catches for 828 yards (23.0 ypr) and 13 touchdowns. McMillan has rushed for 118 yards and three scores on just six carries. On defense, McMillan has two interceptions, caused two forced fumbles, and has a fumble recovery. McMillan has returned a kickoff for a score, and has three punt returns of 25 yards or more. Senior running back Dadrian Carter-Williams has rushed for 1,249 yards and 13 touchdowns on 138 carries, and was likely denied becoming the Pumas first three-time 1,000 yard rusher because of the pandemic, after rushing for 1,055 yards and 11 touchdowns as a sophomore in 2019.
The Pumas allow only 6.3 points per game, ranking second among the 182 teams in the MPSSAA. The Pumas defensive unit and front is led by 6’2 240 defensive end Amar Thomas, who leads the unit with 45 solo tackles, 24.5 tackles for loss, 16 sacks, two forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery. Mitchell, the 275 pound back who had back-to-back 20 yard runs in week 13, serves on the interior of the Pumas defensive line, and has registered 22 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, and forced three fumbles. Senior middle linebacker Kanye Parker leads the Pumas with 86 tackles, and has added seven tackles for loss, five sacks, two forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery. Both Thomas and Parker were integral parts of the Pumas state championship team in 2019 as sophomores. Of Thomas, Parrish says, “He’s been a terror in backfields, and (great) at chasing down the plays that are run away from him.” Of Parker, the captain, the five-time state championship coach said, “He’s been outstanding.”
The Cougars advanced to the title game after winning the 32nd battle of their series with arch rival Northwest, edging the Jaguars, 14-13, in the proverbial slugfest. The Cougars will be playing in their fourth state championship game in five post-seasons, after falling to the Pumas in ‘16 and ‘17, and topping North Point in ‘18, 40-33, to win it all. Friday night, after the visiting Northwest Jaguars scored midway through the third quarter and cut the deficit to one, Cougars senior cornerback Jalen Huskey came through the right side and blocked the potential game-tying extra point attempt. Huskey and the Cougars defense would hold the Jaguars scoreless the rest of the way, but not until their last drive, with less than a minute to play. Still, the Cougars earned their 18th victory in the last 23 games with their arch rival, and punched the first ticket to the 4A state title game.
The Cougars will be playing in their sixth state championship game in ten years, and Coach Kelley will be coaching in his fourth title game in seven post-seasons as the Cougars head coach. The Cougars have won 34 post-season games since their second championship season in 2007. The win over the Jaguars was the twelfth time in their 13 games this season that the Cougars have held their opponents to 14 points or less. After the win, Kelley said, “We played on a short field most of the night. We were able to have that goal line stand, and had several very critical third down stops. We also blocked the extra point, and our ‘PAT’ block team is our starting defense. Huskey has been outstanding for our team all season. He’s also one of the best returners and cover corners in the state. He’s also an outstanding leader.”
The Cougars average scoring 40.6 points per game, while allowing just 7.3 points per game, fourth best in the MPSSAA. The Cougars, like the Pumas, are extremely well-rounded in all phases of the game. The Cougars have scored 31 or more points in 11 of 13 games.
Donovan Brown (Syracuse commit) and Steve Sannieniola (Vanderbilt), along with Huskey, headline the Cougars talented cast. Brown is Cougars junior quarterback Savan Briggs’ top target, averaging better than 23 yards per reception, with eight touchdown receptions, and adding a pair of rushing touchdowns. “Brown is one of the most dynamic athletes in the state. He can truly score any times he touches the ball. He’s been great for us all year, says Kelley. Of Sannieniola, Kelley remarks, “(He’s) provided a big boost for us on both sides of the ball. Not only is he a great safety, he’s also a great running back who can also score anytime he touches the ball.” Huskey has returned six punts for touchdowns.
Briggs has completed 64 of 91 passes for 1,000 yards, with 15 touchdowns and just one interception. Freshman Iverson Howard, limited to ten games by injury, is the Cougars leading rusher this season, rushing for 891 yards and ten touchdowns on 92 carries. Sophomore Isaiah Blackman-Boyd has rushed for 511 yards and 12 touchdowns. Sannieniola has just 21 carries, but averages 15 yards per carry, and has rushed for six touchdowns. Junior linebacker Matthew Ionia leads the Cougars in tackles, with 66, including 40 solo tackles. Senior linebacker Sekou Kamara has registered 47 tackles, four tackles for loss, three forced fumbles, and a defensive touchdown.
Parrish is 164-33 in fifteen seasons at Wise, including 35-7 in the post-season, tying him with former Fort Hill coach Todd Appel, for second most in MPSSAA history. Kelley is 84-10 in his eighth season at Quince Orchard, and his .894 win percentage would rank third all-time in MPSSAA history, if it met the 120 game minimum, trailing former Fort Hill legend William Hahn by hundredths of a percentage point, and Appel, who finished with a .904 win percentage in his twelve seasons at Fort Hill.
Both programs have risen exponentially on all-time post-season lists over the last 15 seasons, and now Quince Orchard ranks seventh in MPSSAA history with 38 post-season wins, and Wise, who has only played 15 seasons, ranks ninth all-time in post-season wins, with 35. Both Quince Orchard and Wise will be playing in their respective eighth state championship games, becoming just the 13th and 14th teams to do so.
The undefeated Cougars and the undefeated Pumas for he 4A state title. Does is it get any better than this?
4/3A – Thursday 7PM
Dundalk Owls (12-0) v Mervo Mustangs (10-1)
Coaches – Dundalk Matt Banta 5th season 37-12, 5-2 p/o; Mervo Patrick Nixon 11th season 84-38, 9-5
Points per game – Points allowed per game / Point differential – Dundalk 36.3-5.6/ +30.7; Mervo 40.8-7.9/ +32.9
MPSSAA playoff history – Dundalk 9-11, 0-1 in state final; Mervo 9-9, 0-0
With the pandemic still looming over the summer, MPSSAA officials devised a one-time post-season format, with every team afforded an opportunity for a playoff slot, and expanded from four classifications to six. Hence, the 4/3A division, a hybrid of the fifteen smallest 4A teams, and the fifteen largest 3A schools. The one-time hybrid state final features two Baltimore area high schools, Dundalk and Mervo, with both competing for their first state titles on the gridiron.
Both Dundalk and Mervo are having their best seasons in their program’s history since joining the MPSSAA. The Owls of Dundalk are amidst their first undefeated season since their 1971 team went unbeaten, a team that pre-dated the MPSSAA. The Owls made their only other state final appearance in 2015, losing to 11-time state champion Damascus, 38-0, in the 3A state title game. Mervo has been knocking on the door of Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium for three straight post-seasons now, and has finally barged in. The Mustangs lost in a 2018 4A state semifinal to North Point, 23-13, then fell just short of Linganore the following year, 27-25, in a 3A state semifinal.
The two teams have galvanized incredible energy to and from their respective schools and community. Dundalk Head Coach Matt Banta adds, “It has been amazing to see the community support and school pride this year. Business have been reaching out to see how they can support with food and gifts. Alumni from the ‘15 game and beyond have been showing up to games in letterman jackets cheering us on. It’s truly refreshing to see the outpouring of love this fall.”
Mervo has overcome unimagined adversity to get to this spot, suffering through the death of senior Elijah Gorham, who died of a traumatic brain injury weeks after suffering head trauma in the week two matchup with city rival Dunbar. Gorham, a receiver, had gone up to catch a potential touchdown reception in the end zone when a Poets player fell on top of him. The Mustangs have played just nine games in thirteen weeks, with the cancellation of the City College game the week after Gotham’s death, two forfeited wins, and a brutal week nine storm. The Mustangs have proven to be remarkably resilient.
Coach Banta knows what to expect from the Mustangs. “Mervo is the most athletic team we’ll see this year. They also have great size, which will be a challenge. This is the game everyone in the city and county have been talking about this year, so there will be some added excitement to the game. Our guys are excited for the opportunity to compete against their program.”
Dundalk advanced to their second state championship game in their program’s history following their most impressive victory of the year thus far, a 40-6 drubbing of Arundel in their state semifinal matchup with the Wildcats. Banta said his staff stressed a strong start, “We emphasized wanting to start fast this week and punching those guys (Arundel) in the mouth from the jump. We didn’t want to get ourselves in a hole like last week with Urbana.” The Owls needed three fourth quarter touchdowns to come back from a 15-0 deficit to beat Urbana, and survive the Hawks and advance to the state title game. Last Friday night, there was no such drama, as the Owls built a 14-0 halftime lead that blew up to a 37-0 advantage after three quarters with the ‘Cats.
The Owls have held each of their 12 opponents to 15 points or less this season, and rank #1 of all of the 182 MPSSAA teams in points allowed, at a paltry 5.6 points per contest. Senior outside linebacker Abdullah Sargent has been tremendous, registering 80 tackles (39 solo), 16 tackles for loss, five sacks, five quarterback hurries, and five interceptions. Seniors Kevuan Briscoe and Kamare Watson headline the inside linebacking corps, with Watson recording 78 tackles (35 solo), 11 tackles for loss, and five sacks. Marcus Nicholson, a senior two-way starter, has six interceptions and 12 pass breakups. Of Briscoe, Banta says, “Kavuan is truly a coach on the field, and makes all the checks and adjustments.”
The Owls compliment their stellar defense with a strong running game and ball control. Junior running back Jordan Fiorenza has rushed for 1,458 yards and 18 touchdowns on 158 carries, adding 17 receptions for 231 yards , and an interception and forced fumble in spot duty on defense. Senior quarterback Calvin Stokes connected on all six of his passes versus Arundel, for 93 yards and a touchdown, and added 41 yards and a score on seven carries. On the season, Stokes has completed 85 of 143 attempts for 1,256 yards, with eight touchdowns and seven interceptions. Nicholson has 31 receptions for 544 yards and six touchdowns, to go with his defensive heroics. Nicholson caught three receptions for 75 yards and a touchdown, and grabbed an interception in the win over the Wildcats.
Mervo is playing its best football of the season, beginning with a 42-3 rout of Perry Hall in the ‘Round of 16’, followed by a dominating 34-7 victory over North Point, leading to a 49-7 win over Sherwood in the state semifinal. The Mustangs have outscored their three playoff opponents, 125-17, allowing only two touchdowns in the post-season. On the season, the Mustangs are averaging scoring 40.8 points per game, ranked 9th in the MPSSAA, and allow only 7.9 points per game, sixth best in the MPSSAA.
The Mustangs have played just nine games on the field through week 13, three or four games less than any other playoff contender, save for Wise, who have played ten games. The Mustangs have won eight post-season games over the last three post-seasons, after sitting with a 1-7 post-season record in their first 25 seasons in the MPSSAA, from ‘93 through ‘17.
Mustangs senior quarterback Derek Dunn threw 12 for 23 for 191 yards and four touchdowns in the state semifinal victory over Sherwood, a week after throwing four touchdowns in the quarterfinal win over North Point. TyShawn Cox caught two of the touchdowns in the Arundel win, a game the ‘Stangs led 20-0 at halftime. The Mustangs have scored 25 or more points in every game this season. Mervo turned the ball over six times in the 27 point win [Read that again], but the defense limited the Warriors to only 108 yards of offense, and turned over the three-time state champions four times themselves. Mervo will become just the fourth Baltimore City team to advance to a state championship game, joining ten-time state champion Dunbar, 2006 2A state champion Edmondson, and Douglass, 1A state runner-ups in ‘13 and ‘14.
Dunn, a 6’2 220 pound senior, has completed 122 of 192 passes for 1,870 yards, with 29 touchdowns, second best in the MPSSAA, against seven interceptions. Senior Kylish Hicks is Dunn’s top weapon, registering 44 receptions for 895 yards and 12 touchdowns, while Deandre Ferguson and Vaughn Devaughn have combined for 67 receptions for 902 yards and 13 touchdowns. Junior Bobby Johnson is the Mustangs leading rusher, with 817 yards and eight touchdowns. Junior 6’3 350 pound defensive tackle Daron Deniton anchors in the interior line on defense, while defensive ends Ayo Meyers and Khalil Speaks, have combined for 35.5 sacks. Hicks also stars at safety for the Mustangs.
Banta boasts a 37-12 record n his fifth season at Dundalk. Banta was a young assistant on the Owls 2015 3A runner-up team, as was Offensive Coordinator Jordan Emge as an offensive assistant, and Special Teams Coordinator John Moorhead. Patrick Nixon is 84-38 in his 11th season at Mervo, including leading the ‘Stangs to a 33-4 record over their last three seasons.
One of these ‘Charm City’ area teams goes home from Annapolis after winning their first state title on the gridiron.
3A – Saturday 7PM
Linganore Lancers (12-0) v Northern Patriots (11-1)
Coaches – Linganore Rick Conner 23rd season (20th at Linganore) 209-59, 32-14 p/o; Northern Rich Holzer 8th season (1st at Northern) 56-22, 7-2 – not including 41-15 record in the MIAA at St Joe
Points per game – Points allowed per game / Point differential – Linganore 38.9-15.0/ +23.9; Northern 34.4-9.3/ +25.1
MPSSAA playoff history – Linganore 44-17, 6-7 in state final; Northern 8-7, 0-0
The 3A state title game features one of the more storied programs in MPSSAA history in Linganore, and another making its first title game appearance in their program’s history, in Northern, of Calvert County. What both teams do have in common is having outstanding 2021 seasons, with the Lancers of Linganore undefeated at 12-0, and the Patriots of Northern taking a 11-1 record into the title game, with their only defeat an overtime loss on the road to league rival and fellow top 20 team, Huntingtown, in week seven.
Linganore is making its fourth 3A title game appearance in four post-seasons, having beaten Milford Mill by one in ‘17, losing by three to Franklin in ‘18, and suffering a shutout loss to Damascus in ‘19. The Lancers will be making their 14th state championship game appearance this week, trailing only Damascus, who have made the final 15 times, and Dunbar, who will be making its 15th title game appearance this week. The Lancers program boast 44 post-season victories in their program’s history, and with another post-season victory, would match Seneca Valley for fourth most in MPSSAA history, behind Dunbar, Fort Hill, and Damascus.
Coach Rick Conner is in his 20th season at Linganore, and is the MPSSAA’s winningest active coach, with 209 wins, tied with Churchill coaching legend, Fred Sheppard, for 15th on the all-time Maryland public schools list. Conner is tied with Montgomery County legend Al Thomas for fourth in MPSSAA history in post-season victories, with 32. Conner will be coaching in his eighth state title game, winning it all with the Lancers in ‘03, ‘09, and ‘17. Conner’s 2009 Lancers are considered one of the greatest teams in MPSSAA history, and are the last to be ranked among the nation’s top 25 teams (USA Today).
It had been more than 30 years since the Patriots came close to the state championship game, losing in the state semifinals in three straight years from 1988 to 1990. Since, they had advanced to the regional final round just twice, in ‘17 and ‘18. In ‘17, under Steve Crounse, the Patriots fell to Oxon Hill, 37-28, in the regional final, and in ‘18, lost to Huntingtown, 20-7, in the regional final. The Patriots finished 5-5 in ‘19, following a first round playoff exit, and Crounse left for DeMatha, to become the Stags Offensive Coordinator.
Enter Rich Holzer, fresh off five successful seasons at Mt St Joe in Baltimore, in the highly respected MIAA league, punctuated with a MIAA championship in his final season in Irvington in 2019. While one Crounse left, one returned when senior quarterback Zach Crounse returned to Owings after a one year stay at DeMatha. Crounse started as a freshman and sophomore for the Patriots, before transferring to the Stags. Holzer took the Northern job to be closer to his home in Harwood. Together, he, Crounse, and the rest of the Patriots have put together the greatest season in the Patriots program’s history.
The Lancers bread-and-butter has always been their powerful running game, and that hasn’t changed. The Lancers average scoring 38.9 points per game, which ranks 12th in the MPSSAA. Sophomore Ethan Arneson is the MPSSAA’s leading rusher, with 2,058 yards and 21 touchdowns on 297 carries. In the Lancers thrilling 54-53 overtime victory versus Oakdale, the sophomore ran for a school record 353 yards and three touchdowns on 48 carries.
The sophomore has impressed his veteran coach, “Ethan has been nothing short of amazing. He has some very special running back skills – vision, patience, strength, fast in all directions, and a tough kid! Way ahead of his time as he’s only a soph’. We have one of the best line coaches in the state – Jordan Dixon, who is also our Offensive Coordinator. Jacob Cannon, Mikey Ayers, Tyler Willett, Zach Keister, and Brandon Eckloff, have all bought in to coach Dixon’s system and they keep getting better each week.” Senior Timmy Conner, the coach’s son, has completed 59 of 106 attempts, for 888 yards, with 14 touchdowns and five interceptions. Conner, who has a career record of 28-3 as the starting quarterback for the Lancers, has also rushed for 254 yards and three scores.
The Lancers advanced to the state final after shutting down a high-powered Frederick offense for a second time this year, winning 23-14 in the state semifinal. Arneson went out with an injury early, and Josh Little stepped up, rushing for 236 yards on 35 carries, and scored the only touchdown in the second half, extending the Lancers precarious 16-14 lead to nine points. Conner was very pleased with his defense, “The game was very physical. Both teams got after it. I’m really happy with our defense, giving up nothing in the second half, and going four for four on 4th down stops. We also didn’t punt during the game. We need to be better in red zone. That is something we will pay attention to this week.”
Senior linebacker Chase Schultz headlines the Lancers defense, registering 50 tackles, 17 tackles for loss, ten sacks, three fumble recoveries, a forced fumble, and a blocked kick. Senior linebacker Nate Engel is second on the team in tackles, with 63, and has 17 tackles for loss. Sophomore outside linebacker Carter Neal leads the Lancers in tackles and solo tackles, with 65 and 41, respectively, adding 12 tackles for loss, three sacks, two forced fumbles, and recorded a safety.
Crounse leads the aerial attack for the Patriots, and ranks second in the MPSSAA in passing yardage, with 3,007 yards, second in completions (207-324/63.9%), with 207, and tied for first in passing touchdowns, with 30, against 14 interceptions. Crounse became the 15th passer in MPSSAA history to surpass 3,000 passing yards in a season, joining Decatur’s Ashten Snelsire as the 2021 entries in the ‘3000 Club’. With a game to play, Crounse ranks 11th on the MPSSAA all-time completions list, with 419, and 14th on the all-time passing yardage list, with 5,761 passing yards. Says Holzer of his senior quarterback, “Crounse is having a career season. He is playing to prove he is as good or better then his brothers, and he’s living up to the hype. He is a different player, being more of a pocket passer. He is the cog that makes our engine go on offense. He has the ability to change plays on the line of scrimmage as needed, and does a phenomenal job at it.”
Senior Tyler Baskett is Crounse’s top target, and one of the top receivers in the MPSSAA. Baskett leads the MPSSAA in receptions, with 62, ranks second in receiving yards, with 1,298, and second in touchdown receptions, with 15. Crounse and Baskett hooked up for both of the Patriots touchdowns in their narrow 16-13 win over Chesapeake in the state semifinal. After calling it a messy game, Holzer said, “Baskett was all over the field in every phase of the game. Crounse did a good job staying patient and our defense found a way to get stops despite being on the field for 8-9 minutes at a time.”
The Pats can run too, offering a pair of 900 yard rushers in senior Gavin Whittington and junior Nathan Torres. The two have combined for 1,876 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns.
Cornerback Cody Howard, who is headed to Navy next fall, is fourth on the team in tackles, with 77. Whittington, who Holzer considers his best all-around player, and will likely head to prep school before going to Navy, is second on the team in tackles, with 80, and has four sacks and an interception. Of his two seniors, Holzer reveals, “Howard and Whittington are different people. They have a level of maturity and leadership you cant teach. They are the epitome of what coaches call “natural born leaders”. This skill was not learned. Kids naturally gravitate to these two and they drive the bus. I really think that they are the guys who set the tone for our team week in and week out.” Senior outside linebacker Hayden Cleary leads the Patriots in both tackles and solo tackles, with 120 and 47, respectively, adding nine tackles for loss, two sacks, a safety, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery.
It’s the best of Frederick County in the Lancers, versus the best in the SMAC, despite the Patriots overtime loss to Huntingtown, considering the Hurricanes one defeat in the regular season was a 16 point loss to North Point, and considering the Patriots punched a ticket to Annapolis, while everyone else in the SMAC did not.
2A – Friday 4PM
Milford Mill Millers (12-1) v Douglass PG Eagles (12-1)
Coaches – Milford Mill Reggie White 20th season 147-70, 15-10 p/o; Douglass Monty Sutton 1st season 12-1, 4-0
Points per game – Points allowed per game / Point differential – Milford Mill 36.8-6.9/ +29.9; Douglass 30.5-7.4/ +23.1
MPSSAA playoff history – Milford Mill 23-19, 1-2 in state final; Douglass 33-22, 1-4
The 2A state championship features two of the more successful programs there have been throughout the 48 seasons of MPSSAA football. Both Milford Mill and Douglass rank among the top 20 MPSSAA teams in post-season games, with the Millers ranking 17th when they play their 43rd playoff game in the title game, while the Eagles will be playing its 56th post-season game, which ranks 8th best in MPSSAA history. The Millers have advanced to the state semifinal round at least once in each of the last five decades, while the Eagles have punched a ticket to the ‘Final Four’ round in five of the six decades the MPSSAA has been around, dating back to the Eagles first runner-up finish in 1975, the second year and season the MPSSAA existed.
The Millers will be playing in their fourth state championship game, winning their only state title in 1987. In 2017, the Millers advanced to the 3A state title game and led 19-0, before the Lancers scored 22 straight points, and dealt the Millers a 28-27 heartbreaking loss with a game-winning score with 14 seconds to play.
This season, the Millers have won 12 straight games since a season opening 19-14 loss to county rival Franklin. The Millers defense has been outstanding all season, limiting 11 of their 12 opponents to seven points or less, including the 14-7 state semifinal road win at Huntingtown last Friday. Four different times in the Millers held the Hurricanes scoreless after the hosts drove inside the Millers 25 yard line. Tahseen Howard, the Millers ‘do everything’ senior, picked off the Canes first pass, threw for the Millers first score, then ran for the Millers second and game-winning score.
It was the 12th straight game the Millers held an opponent to two scores or less. The 14-7 win was the first among the Millers twelve straight victories that was decided within 20 points or less. The Millers defense held Glenelg to just three points in their 35-3 quarterfinal win over the Gladiators.
The Millers allow just 6.9 points per game, ranking third in the MPSSAA in points allowed. Byron McCoy, a 6’3 270 pound defensive lineman, sets the tempo for the Millers defense, registering 42 solo tackles, 25 tackles for loss, 15.5 sacks, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery. Senior linebacker Andrew Rhuebottom leads the Millers in tackles and solo tackles, with 117 and 80, respectively, adding 2.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery. Howard, the quarterback on offense and defense, ranks among the state’s best with eight interceptions, adding five pass breakups, two forced fumbles, and returned one of his two fumble recoveries for a score.
Howard has thrown for 1.674 yards and 18 touchdowns, and ran for 1,054 yards and 15 touchdowns. Howard has also returned five punts for touchdowns, second best in the MPSSAA. Howard has completed 53.8% of his passes, and averages 8.8 yards per carry. Chris Butler has rushed for 994 yards and 17 touchdowns on 100 carries in nine games this season for the Millers. Butler has also returned two kickoff returns for touchdowns. Junior Daysen Shell is Howard’s top target, grabbing 34 receptions for 666 yards and six touchdowns. The Millers average scoring 36.8 points per game.
Douglass advanced to their sixth state championship with a thrilling 22-15 win over Oakland Mills in the state semifinal, knocking off the Scorpions with a game-winning touchdown pass with 16 seconds to go in regulation time. The Eagles will be playing in their 56th post-season game in their program’s history, 8th most in MPSSAA history, holding a 33-22 record in the playoffs. A week after traveling to Kent Island and taking a one score (20-14) victory back from across the bridge, the Eagles pulled out a game that looked like certain defeat late in the fourth quarter. Instead, the Eagles mounted a 16 play drive that included a 4th and 4 conversion, culminating in Trey Manley’s toss to Jaxon Sutton just inside the sideline of the end zone for the game-winner. The win was the fourth one score victory for the Eagles this season.
The Eagles trailed 15-14 when their closing drive began with 6:41 remaining. “It was a tough battle”, said first year coach Monty Sutton, “They were prepared for us on both sides of the ball, which is a testament to their coaching staff. Going in, we felt we could do some things, but they took that away from us, so it made it tough.”
Douglass is 12-1 on the season, and unbeaten versus MPSSAA opponents, taking their only loss to MIAA’s Pallotti, in week four. Before surviving the Buccaneers and Scorpions, the Eagles blanked league rival Potomac, 38-0, in the ‘Round of 16’. The Eagles are led by their defense, which allows only 7.4 points per game, which ranks 5th in the MPSSAA. The Eagles have limited all of their opponents to 15 points or less in their 12 victories, and have posted six shutouts.
Junior defensive end Darius Grimes leads the Eagles with 91 solo tackles, adding eight sacks, six passes deflections, three fumble recoveries, and two forced fumbles. Junior defensive end Micah Izzard is on the other side, recording 48 solo tackles, 10 sacks, and nine tackles for loss. Senior Camron Stroud and sophomore Davin Brown lead the linebacker corps, with the senior supplying 69 solo tackles and 13 for loss, and the sophomore providing 78 solo tackles, 14 for loss, and two interceptions.
The Eagles are led by a balanced running attack, with four players rushing for 400 yards or better, paced by seniors Vincent Oliver and Mikkel Pittman. Oliver has rushed for 777 yards and six touchdowns on the season, including a season-high 280 yards in the win over Kent Island, a game in which the Eagles rushed for 506 yards. Pittman has rushed for 689 yards and eight touchdowns. Manley, the junior quarterback, has thrown for 688 yards and 11 touchdowns, and ran for 488 yards and five touchdowns. Jaxon Sutton, the coach’s son, leads the Eagles in touchdown receptions, with four, including the game-winner on Kilimanjaro last Friday.
Reggie White in his 20th season, and the former NFL defensive end has a 147-70 record with the Millers. Coach Sutton was a longtime assistant for former Eagles legend, JC Pinkney, who stepped down in the spring with 166 career wins in 18 seasons at Douglass. Sutton was an assistant on the Eagles 2014 2A state championship team that finished 14-0, and outscored opponents, 611-55.
One of these perennial contenders will win their second state championship in their program’s history, while the other will have come close again, but leave without a cigar, again.
2/1A – Saturday 12PM
Dunbar Poets (12-0) v South Carroll Cavaliers (12-0)
Coaches – Dunbar Lawrence Smith 14th season 155-24, 43-7 p/o; South Carroll Mike Kraus 4th season 21-14, 3-0
Points per game – Points allowed per game / Point differential – Dunbar 48.5-5.6/ +42.9; South Carroll 28.6-8.0/ +20.6
MPSSAA playoff history – Dunbar 65-14, 10-3 in state final; South Carroll 16-10, 0-1
The Poets of Dunbar will be playing in their 14th state championship in their 28th season competing in the MPSSAA. The Cavaliers of South Carroll are having their best season in their program’s history, and will be playing in their second state title game on the gridiron. Both are undefeated, and both are 12-0.
Dunbar has been the most successful football (and basketball) program in the MPSSAA since joining the association in 1993. Never mind since they joined, Dunbar has recorded more post-season victories since football began in the MPSSAA in 1974, with 65. The Poets 14 title game appearances are one short of both Damascus and Fort Hill, who will be making their 15th state championship game appearance this week. Dunbar’s 10 state titles are more than any other program since the Poets joined the MPSSAA.
The Cavaliers storybook year follows a 1-8 season in their last full season in 2019. The Cavaliers rebounded with a 4-1 record in the spring, registering wins over Francis Scott Key and Liberty. The Cavaliers only other state title game appearance came in 2005, when they entered the playoffs with a 7-3 record, winning three games on the road, including a 27-18 win over Milford Mill in a 2A state semifinal. The Cavs were blanked by Potomac in the final, 38-0. Cavaliers Head Coach Mike Kraus, who is in his fourth season as head coach of the Cavaliers, was the Defensive Coordinator on the 2005 runner-up team.
Dunbar Head Coach Lawrence Smith has won six state titles with the Poets, and has registered the most post-season victories of any coach in MPSSAA history, with 43. Smith’s .860 (43-7) post-season win percentage also ranks as the best in MPSSAA history.
The Poets have had just one test all season, a 48-46 comeback overtime victory over fellow state finalist Mervo in Week Three. Otherwise, the Poets have dominated. The Poets have scored 38 or more points in all eleven (not including one forfeit win) of their games, and lead the MPSSAA in scoring, averaging 48.5 points per game. The Poets have beaten ten of their eleven opponents by 30 points or more, including Lackey, 50-17, in the state semifinal, producing the best point differential in the MPSSAA, at +42.9. The win over the Chargers was just the second time in eleven games the Poets did not hold their opponents to eight points or less.
Poets junior quarterback Devin Roche rushed for 214 yards and three touchdowns in the win over the Chargers, who claimed a pair of 1,300 yard rushers themselves. Junior running back Tristan Keenan added 194 rushing yards and a score for the Poets. The Poets scored on all five of their possessions in the first half, taking a 36-17 lead into intermission. After Lackey scored on their first possession, the Poets limited the second ranked rushing team in the state to just one more score. “They went down and scored on us on the first possession, and the kids responded. The defense took it personal, and wanted to take the game over.” Roche completed all eight of his passes for 94 yards.
Roche has rushed for 1,857 yards and 22 touchdowns on just 95 carries. Roche has completed 25 of his 35 passes for 588 yards and seven touchdowns, with just one interception. Keenan has rushed for 1,317 yards and 18 touchdowns on only 77 carries. Smith says of his juniors, “Devin and Tristan are home run hitters. They can score anytime they touch the ball.” Junior defensive lineman Desmond Grant leads the Poets with 61 solo tackles, including nine tackles for loss. Senior Robert Smith leads the linebacking corps, for a defensive unit that allowed only 9.2 points per game, 11th best in the MPSSAA.
South Carroll advanced to the state championship game with a 14-13 win over Harford Tech, who came in with a forfeit loss, but was otherwise unbeaten. The Cavaliers and Cobras were tied at seven heading into the fourth quarter. The Cobras scored midway through the final stanza, but missed the extra point, to take a 13-7 lead. On the ensuing possession, facing 4th and 6, the Cavaliers Ryan Barnard found Carter Mazalewski for a 31 yard touchdown, then kicked the extra point through the uprights for what would be the deciding point in a 14-13 win.
The Cavaliers won their sixth game (6-0) decided by 10 points or less. After the nail-biter, Cavaliers Head Coach Mike Kraus said, “The character of our team stood out to me, especially after Harford Tech went right down the field after the opening kickoff and scored on the first series of the game. The was no panic. There was no change in our team’s demeanor. They believed in each other and they know the coaches believe in them, and they settled in and just did their job. Carter came up with two big plays, the touchdown and the interception to seal it. Ryan had ice water in his veins, throwing the touchdown pass under heavy pressure, then kicked the winning point on the point after.”
Barnard has thrown 115 completions in 188 attempts for 1,700 yards, with 16 touchdowns and four interceptions. The senior quarterback has also rushed for 509 yards and ten touchdowns on 74 carries. Junior running back AJ Rodrigues has rushed for 1,113 yards and 13 touchdowns. Senior receiver Logan Miller leads the Cavaliers with 26 receptions for 513 yards and five touchdowns. Defensively, the Cavs are led by senior inside linebacker Brandon Athey, who has registered 130 tackles, 96 solo tackles, 24 tackles for loss, and 13 sacks. Junior defensive tackle Ben Simmens is second on the Cavaliers in tackles, and has recorded 20 tackles for loss, and nine sacks. Senior defensive end Jackson Moore has 17 tackles for loss, 11 hurries, and nine sacks. Mazalewski leads the Cavs with five interceptions, while Miller has four.
Does Dunbar win its 11th state title, to match Damascus for the second most in MPSSAA history, or does South Carroll bring home its first to Sykesville, and the very first for Carroll County?
1A – Saturday 3PM
Fort Hill Sentinels (12-0) v Mountain Ridge Miners (12-1)
Coaches – Fort Hill Zach Alkire 2nd season 13-1, 3-0 p/o; Mountain Ridge Ryan Patterson 6th season 31-21, 4-0 p/o
Points per game – Points allowed per game / Point differential – Fort Hill 41.4-11.0/ +31.4; Mountain Ridge 45.8-11.1/ +34.7
MPSSAA playoff history; Fort Hill 62-27, 7-7 in state final; Mountain Ridge 5-2, 0-0
The 1A state title game features not only the two best teams from Western Maryland, but the two highest ranked 1A teams in the state from the pre-season to date. Fort Hill is arguably the most storied football program in the state, and will be playing in their 90th post-season game, an MPSSAA record, and their 15th state title game, tying (again) Damascus for the most in MPSSAA history. The Sentinels will be traveling 159 miles to Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, while the Miners will head 167 miles east from Frostburg.
The seven-time state champion Sentinels have been nearly flawless this season, recording their 20th undefeated regular season in their program’s illustrious history. ‘Big Red’ took on Anne Arundel County 4A power Old Mill and 2018 2A state champ Oakdale this season, and sent the Patriots home with a 28-13 loss, then sent the Bears home with a 42-7 defeat to think about. The Sentinels have a 62-27 post-season record over their 48 years in the MPSSAA, second all-time in MPSSAA history in playoff wins, trailing only Dunbar, by three victories. The Sentinels are 7-7 in the state championship game.
Fort Hill, like Mervo, has had to deal with the loss of one of their players during the season. Junior Saiquan Jenkins was stabbed and killed in front of the school in late October. The school and community were devastated. Fort Hill advanced to the title game with a 43-14 win over Edmondson in the state semifinal, and Saiquan’s brothers, Gmail and Jabril, made the highlight reel. Alkire felt a presence, “Everybody got to play, including Quans brothers, Gamil and Jabril. The sidelines went crazy when both Gamil and Jabril made big plays. Jabril scores a touchdown, Gamil gets an interception, and Quan was for sure smiling down!”
Following their rout of Oakdale, the Sentinels played host to Mountain Ridge in week six in a much anticipated matchup, after the Miners won their first victory over the Sentinels in the abbreviated spring season, 27-20. The seventeenth matchup between the two best teams in Western Maryland went pretty much like the first fifteen did in the week six matchup, with the Sentinels running away with a 37-7 win. The Sentinels out-gained the Miners, 336-132, and limited one of the best passers in the MPSSAA in Miners quarterback Bryce Snyder, to 36 passing yards, and two interceptions.
The Sentinels have beaten each of their last nine MPSSAA opponents by 26 points or more, and have scored 37 points or more in each of the nine games versus MPSSAA opponents following their win over the 4A quarterfinalist Patriots of Old Mill. The Sentinels are averaging 41.4 points per game, seventh best in the MPSSAA, with a +30.4 point differential, also seventh best in the MPSSAA.
Senior running back Blake White leads the Sentinels rushing attack with 1.220 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns, averaging 10.2 yards per carry on 120 attempts. Sentinels Head Coach Zach Alkire, in his first full season at Fort Hill, says of White, “Blake has had a phenomenal season. From day one of the off-season he has been my guy in terms of leadership. He has the respect of his teammates and really bought into what we wanted to do. On the field, he has done it all for us. He has played running back, fullback, halfback, and slot on offense. He blocks, catches the ball well, and of course, runs the ball hard and fast. He has played linebacker most of the season but also spent time as defensive end and had to play the defensive line in that Hollidaysburg game when we were down 10 kids.”
Two juniors follow White, in Tanner Wertz and Tavon Willis. Wertz has 694 rushing yards and seven touchdowns on 81 carries, while Willis adds 455 yards and nine touchdowns on 77 carries. Senior quarterback Bryce Schadt has connected on 28 of 52 passes for 522 yards, with seven touchdowns and five interceptions. Schadt has also rushed for 294 yards and seven scores. White leads the defense in both tackles and solo tackles, with 91 and 50, respectively, and paces the Sentinels with 16 tackles for loss. Willis and Wertz rank second and third in both tackles and solo tackles, with Willis second in total tackles, with 80, and third in solo tackles, with 40, and Wertz third in total tackles, with 77, and second in solo tackles, with 42, adding three forced fumbles. Junior cornerback Anthony Palmisano leads the Sentinels with four interceptions.
The Miners are having by far their greatest season in their program’s history, shattering virtually ever program record there was, including points, with 551, and offensive yards, with 4,651. The incredibly balanced Miners have rushed for 2,383 yards, and passed for 2.268 yards. The Miners average scoring 45.8 points per game, second among the 182 teams in the MPSSAA. The Miners +34.7 point differential ranks third in the MPSSAA, trailing only Dunbar and Wise. The Miners routed regional power Allegany twice this season, blanking the Campers, 31-0, in the regular season tilt, then 35-6, in the ‘Round of 16’.
The Miners advanced to the state final after putting away Perryville, 63-14, in the state semifinal, as senior quarterback Bryce Snyder accounted for five touchdowns, and junior running back Jaden Lee rushed for 184 yards and scored four touchdowns.
Snyder has accounted for 42 touchdowns this season, with 2,165 passing yards, and 422 rushing yards. Lee has rushed for 1,117 yards, and caught 34 receptions for 387 yards, scoring 19 touchdowns in all. Senior Nathaniel Washington and junior Uma Pua’ali are Snyder’s two top targets, with the senior recording 44 receptions for 789 yards, scoring 12 touchdowns, and the junior producing 39 receptions and 548 yards, and scoring 14 touchdowns in all.
A 1A western front takeover.
HS Sports Analyst
Willie, a native of Chicago, and now a resident of Columbia for 40 years, is an educator at Homewood Center in Howard County, after spending 12 years as a real estate agent, following 10 years of running a small men’s retail company. Willie has contributed to Max Preps, Digital Sports, and Varsity Sports Network. Willie has produced MPSSAA top 25 rankings for both football and basketball for 15 years, across various platforms. From a large ‘sports family’, Willie’s brother Mike led Reservoir High to the 3A basketball state title game in 2018, while his nephew Anthony serves as the Indianapolis Colts College Scouting Coordinator.