Damascus Coach Dan Makosy can plot and scheme with the best, always willing to throw a wrinkle into his game plan when the situation calls for it. He is, however, well aware that when the top-ranked Swarmin' Hornets host No. 11 Quince Orchard in the 4A West region final tomorrow, he might have to reach further into his bag of tricks.
When the teams last met on Oct. 10, Damascus walked away with a 35-14 victory on the strength of one of the more surreal sequences one could ever see in a high school football game.
The Swarmin' Hornets recovered three straight squib kicks in the first half, scoring on each ensuing possession and racing to a 28-0 lead. Just like that, one of the county's most anticipated matchups was decided at halftime.
"They'll be better prepared," Makosy said. "It was a fluke thing last time. Quince Orchard is a lot better obviously, they're 10-1. The offense that we had prepared for them last game we didn't really use, and I don't think they used a lot that they had prepared.
"I think we're in for a different game. They won't be playing catch-up and we won't have a big lead."
So the next chapter of this brewing rivalry pits one team that has established itself as one of the area's most successful programs and another looking to reach that point. The Hornets are in search of their third straight state final appearance -- they won in 2003 -- while the Cougars are coming off a 35-14 win over Richard Montgomery on Friday, their first playoff win since 1991.
To say the least, Quince Orchard (10-1) rebounded well from the Damascus loss. In the six games since, the Cougars have yielded only 35 points, buoyed by the possibility of having another crack at the Hornets (11-0).
"Pretty much we just want to prove that we're not the old Quince Orchard," quarterback Pepper Coe said. "Last year we turned it around and this year we're still moving forward."
Perhaps the most pressing issue for Quince Orchard is the health of senior Bani Gbadyu, who was limited at both running back and linebacker on Friday by a deep thigh bruise. In his place, running back Ulysses Gaston ran for 174 yards on 21 carries. Both backs will have to contend with a defense that has routinely held opponents to season-low rushing totals.
"When somebody on your team goes down, you just have to step in and make plays," Gaston said. "When I'm out there breaking big runs, it's like him making big runs."
Few teams enter the postseason on as big a roll as Sherwood.
The Warriors have posted more than 40 points in each of their five games since falling to Damascus, 25-7, on Oct. 21 -- including a 45-0 rout of Parkville in a 4A North semifinal on Friday.
Senior running back Brian Gunderman rushed for three touchdowns while carrying the ball just 12 times for 52 yards. Junior quarterback Deontay Twyman threw a pair of touchdown passes, including a 74-yard strike to wide receiver Ben Everett, who finished with six catches for 221 yards.
The lopsided victory has followed a familiar theme for Sherwood, which outscored its opponents 109-46 over the final three weeks of the regular season -- including a pair of lopsided victories over Gaithersburg and playoff-hopeful Magruder.
Twyman has saved his best performances for the stretch run. He has thrown just two interceptions over four games since being picked off three times by Damascus. Even more impressive has been his accuracy, completing 45-of-68 passes while throwing 14 touchdowns.
Sherwood travels to Perry Hall, the Baltimore Sun's 14th-ranked team. So far the postseason draw has been favorable for the Warriors -- if they qualify for states, they won't face Damascus until the final.
Special correspondent Josh Leventhal contributed to this report.