The pouring rain didn’t dampen the Quince Orchard Cougars’ road win on Friday as the Gaithersburg team defeated the Northwest Jaguars, 34-21. The penalties and lack of discipline did.
After the handshake line, the Cougars (8-0) followed head coach John Kelley to the end zone for the post-game speech and fell silent. A team with 38-straight wins and having just defeated their Germantown (6-2) rival by two touchdowns wasn’t celebrating.
The Cougars nearly tallied double-digit pre-snap penalties. They inflicted upon themselves three consecutive unsportsmanlike conduct penalties on defense in one drive which advanced the Jaguars offense 45 yards and led them to score their third touchdown of the night and pull within one score.
Kelley asked his players why they’re not satisfied with defeating their opponents on the scoreboard. He suggested the leaders of the team consider calling a players-only meeting. He called on his players to correct the discipline and the responsibility to one another before it becomes their downfall.
“We just had some stupid penalties tonight,” Kelley said. “[The penalties] were just stupid at the end of the game that basically gave [the Jaguars] a free touchdown which was disappointing. It cost us, probably, another touchdown.”
Junior running back Iverson Howard, who notched two touchdowns, including the game-sealing 40-yard touchdown run with under two minutes remaining, felt the same.
“One thing we’ve got to fix is being disciplined,” Howard said. “… Somebody hit you, you have got to walk away from that.”
It was a chippy, hostile environment from the pre-game to the final whistle. Northwest held up banners saying, “Kiss your winning streak goodbye! #JagNation.”
Both sides featured players chirping across the 50-yard line, pointing at their rivals heightening the intensity. Maybe too much intensity for some, said senior wide receiver Tavahri ‘Tick’ Groves.
“We all came out with hot heads,” Groves said. “A couple of us too much hot on the head.”
As the Cougars have continued their dominance, teams have attempted to further rattle them and cause disruption. Senior quarterback Nino Marzullo said that shouldn’t matter.
“We have to be tough mentally and physically,” Marzullo said. “We can’t be doing dumb stuff like talking. We just have to clean that stuff up.”
Marzullo and the offense were both, with the senior signal caller connecting with Groves on a 25-yard touchdown pass to open the scoring in the first quarter. On their next drive they scored again with Howard finding the end zone on a 17-yard rush to put the Cougars up 14-0.
But the Jaguars weren’t going away, answering with a 15-play, 80-yard drive that saw running back Tony Berry score with 1:26 left in the first half.
“Every time we play Northwest it’s always going to be a dogfight,” said Howard.
Coming out of halftime, the Cougars found the end zone on Marzullo’s second touchdown pass to Groves, this one for 36 yards.
“Every time I see [Groves] he’s just open, so it’s great to have him and all my other receivers, too,” said Marzullo.
Groves felt the same way.
“We ran the exact same play,” Groves said on his second touchdown reception. “I already knew the dude in front of me couldn’t guard me. [It was] the same route. Just cook him.”
And just as the Jaguars crept back into the game on a clever wildcat pass from Berry to junior tight end Connor Bunting to close within one score, the Cougars responded. Midway through the fourth quarter, on third and 16 from the 50-yard line, Marzullo completed his third touchdown pass on a screen to senior wide receiver Isaiah Blackman-Boyd.
“‘Zay’ made a great play,” Marzullo said. “I threw it and got wacked. O-line did a great job blocking downfield and it helped bring the momentum back all the way.”
It was here that the defense began to unravel, with penalties screeching play to a halt after each snap. With free yardage and their backs against the wall, Jaguars senior quarterback Jayden Vongprachanh-Nelson (16 of 26 for 190 yards) connected with Berry for a 12-yard touchdown. But the comeback attempt was silenced after Howard blew through the middle of the field and iced the game with a 40-yard touchdown.
Iverson, after the game, was solely focused on the mistakes, rather than celebrating the victory.
“Our mindset was ‘we definitely going to run through these boys’ face,” Howard said. “But one thing we got to fix is being disciplined.”
If they don’t fix the issues now, players may have a different view in the future.
“Guys are just going to have to figure it out or they’re going to be sitting on the sidelines clapping,” said Kelley.
Next up for Quince Orchard is the Sherwood Warriors (6-2) at 6:30 p.m. on Oct. 27 at home. The Jaguars stay at home for a 6:30 p.m. Oct. 27 clash against the Einstein Titans (5-3).
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