Down by 10 early in the second quarter against Germantown-based Northwest High School, the Quince Orchard Cougars, from Gaithersburg, called a simple screen pass on second-and-long inside their own 30-yard line. However, a routine play the Cougars have run numerous times went awry.
Northwest defensive lineman Xavier Rivas came up with the interception and excitedly scampered to the end zone to put the Jaguars up 17 points, sending the away team sideline and student section into a frenzy.
Rivas’ interception was one of four second-quarter turnovers the Jaguars forced. The quartet of takeaways and an impressive aerial attack were crucial in Northwest earning a 29-26 victory Friday over Quince Orchard in the second round of MPSSAA 4A State Playoffs.
Less than a month after losing to Quince Orchard on its home field, Northwest thwarted a local rival when it mattered most, ending a 39-game winning streak dating back to 2019.
“Our kids just played hard, this was a great high school football game,” said Jaguars first year head coach Bucky Clipper. “It came down to turnovers and we were lucky enough to be on the good side of that.”
In the third quarter of the game, Quince Orchard star defensive end Jaylen Harvey went down with an injury for which an ambulance came and took him from the game. Harvey is a four-star recruit, according to the college football recruiting service Rivals and committed to play at Penn State.
Harvey was being attended to for 20-minutes before the ambulance arrived. After the game, Quince Orchard Head Coach John Kelley said he was unsure of specifics, but confirmed Harvey was talking on the field.
The Jaguars held a 15-12 lead after the first quarter. On the first play of the second quarter, the Jaguars, on the verge of extending their lead, fumbled. On the next play, Northwest forced a fumble of its own.
A couple plays after forcing the turnover, sophomore quarterback Jayden Vongprachanh-Nelson found receiver Anthony Gengerella for a 27-yard touchdown, giving the Jaguars a 10-point lead.
After Rivas’ aforementioned pick-six, Northwest took the 29-12 lead into the half.
Vongprachanh-Nelson didn’t hesitate to pull the trigger on any throw throughout the game, completing six passes of at least 20 yards. He left Quince Orchard with 237 yards, two total touchdowns and a pair of interceptions.
“Ever since I was young, I’ve always had the confidence. I just prepare myself mentally,” said the sophomore.
The Northwest defense held the Quince Orchard offense mute for much of the game. The Cougars fought back late in the fourth quarter, cutting the deficit to three points with 45 seconds on the clock via a 15-yard touchdown pass from Nino Marzullo to Tavahri Groves.
The Jaguars recovered the ensuing onside kick and kneeled out the clock, sealing the win.
Quince Orchard entered the game 9-0 with a bye in the opening round of the playoffs. A poor second quarter, turnovers and a number of penalties were among the problems that led to the Cougars season having a disappointing end.
With the loss, Quince Orchard’s winning streak concludes one short of 40 games and the team’s hopes of a third consecutive state championship are dashed.
“Sometimes the football gods are on your side and sometimes they are not. When you have four turnovers in the first half, that’s hard to overcome,” said Kelley. “I was proud of our kids, we battled back in the second half and never stopped fighting.”
Since 2012, either Quince Orchard or Northwest has found a place in the state championship game every season except for 2014, often having to defeat the other.
“We just take it one week at a time, that’s legitimately been our talk,” said Clipper. “We’re one week at a time and that’s how we’re going to take it.”
After defeating the top-ranked team in the 4A bracket, Northwest will continue its hopes of a state title, going on the road to take on the Broadneck Bruins of Annapolis in the third round of playoffs next week.
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