Wise and Northwest enter Friday’s championship game as two of the most successful Maryland public schools in recent years. They’ve combined to win six of the last seven Maryland 4A championships and on Friday they will meet to determine who wins the last of the decade.
In 2019 the Jags and Pumas successfully navigated through the 4A division, and although they’ve reached the same point, they’ve taken vastly different paths to get here.
Like a shiny new sports car, Wise (13-0) has zoomed past their competition, winning by an average margin of 42 points per game. Not only did they cruise through the regular season, but the Pumas have pounced on their last two playoff opponents, notching victories of 35-6 and 44-0, respectively. Wise is undefeated and for the most part unchallenged, which has caused some to question if Northwest (12-1) is the more battle-tested of the two teams,
“I don’t buy into that,” Wise coach Dalawn Parrish said. “We prepare situationally in practice. If you make your practice hellacious enough then your kids will be prepared for certain situations. We play the same teams we play every year. [Northwest] play teams from Montgomery County, we play teams from [Prince George].”
To the Pumas' credit, their strength schedule, or lack thereof did not seem to hinder them in previous campaigns. They’d won the Maryland state championship three years in a row before seeing that streak snapped last season. They’ve used that defeat as a driving force to get back to this point.
“Last year we lost to Quince Orchard in the semi-finals and that hurt— that hurt us bad,” Parrish said. “Our kids set out on a mission to make sure they’d never feel that way again. They committed to one another over the summer — working out, lifting weights, running and being together. This team has turned into a true family and they’re committed to sacrificing themselves to win”.
If the Pumas are an untouched two-seater, the Jags are more akin to an armored truck. At times they’ve been beaten, bruised and even fallen under attack, but through it all, they’ve been seemingly indestructible. They’ve had their share of blowouts, but they’ve also won close games, they’ve won with their defense, they’ve even tasted defeat, only to come back and exact revenge. The Jags have proven to be a team who can find a way to win no matter the situation, a quality Mike Neubeiser attributes to Northwest’s leadership and his student-athletes' commitment to the program.
“The kids really in with a new level of dedication this summer,” Neubiser, “We added two new coaches, Chris Samuels on offense and Bucky Clipper on defense. Together we developed a really sound system and the kids have been willing to work hard to win”.
Few outside of the Jags locker room expected Northwest to defeat Quince Orchard last week and potentially even less have picked them versus Wise. The slights don’t bother the Jags though, in fact they’ve used the them as gas for their championship run.
“Its motivation for our kids,” Neubeiser said. “For anyone to say, ‘you're not as good as the opponent’, it kind of motivates you—makes you want to prove that you are. Being the underdog again this week, where everyone says Wise is the ‘unbeatable team’ is motivating in itself. Not too many people are counting on us to win and I think that helps fuel the fire”.
If Wise is the favorite, they’ve gotten here by placing the goals of the team over any individual accolades. Despite having top-end recruits such as Jalil Farooq and Dorian Strong, the Pumas pride themselves on their ability to spread the ball around,
“We don’t have anybody with 1,000 rushing yards. We don’t have anybody with 1,000 receiving yards," Parrish said. “But what we do have is a collective of 2,200 rushing yards and a collective of 1,800 receiving yards. We are committed to sacrificing ourselves in order to achieve the goal of winning a championship.”
Northwest knows they don’t want to get into a shootout with the Pumas. Their plan for coming away victorious rests on their defense's ability to slow the Pumas attack.
“They are absolutely loaded [on offense],” Neubeiser said. “They do like to throw the ball around, but to beat them, you have to stop the run game. For us its about being fundamentally sound. Trying to get a rush and trying to get the quarterback a little uncomfortable. We have to establish the run ourselves to keep their offense off the field.”
The flash of the Pumas versus the grit of the Jags— two great programs with two very different styles. On Friday night, only one will walk away as the Maryland 4A champion.
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