By the time the state playoff field is culled to its region finalists, the survivors often share more than good records and superior talent. When Gwynn Park (11-0) and Patuxent (11-0) line up opposite one other in Maryland’s 2A South final Friday night, they’ll do so with narratives full of parallels.
Patuxent has never won a state title, and while Gwynn Park won one in the past decade (2005), both teams had to overthrow demons of playoffs past to get here. You can replace ‘demons’ with ‘Douglass Eagles’, the team that ended each team’s season in the 2A South playoffs twice in the past four seasons. Gwynn Park took care of them with a 42-32 win in last week’s semifinal.
Both teams’ runs have mobilized communities. Paxnation, the rowdy Patuxent cheering section has grown rowdier as the weeks have gone on, known for neon green shirts (if they’re wearing shirts at all) and raucous support of the Panthers that embodies the town’s increasing football fever.
Gwynn Park’s fans stand around the Yellow Jackets’ field and live and die with every play, pulling eyes away from the game only to toss around stories of past teams and stars, and how this team could be one to remember. They may not have a student section with a hashtagged rallying cry on Twitter, but what they do have is a bull horn, ensuring comparably passionate support to Patuxent’s results in comparable decibel levels.
Both teams say the difference-maker this season is a family-style roster rapport, and if you sigh and roll your eyes at the idea that chemistry can create wins, both will hold their undefeated seasons up as evidence to prove you wrong.
“We’ve had a bond from early in the season,” Gwynn Park senior running back Omar Branch said after his team’s win over Douglass. “People with grade issues, we helped them in study hall, stayed longer in study hall so we could all stay together. That bond really helps us.”
“No one’s being selfish. No one’s upset about playing time,” Patuxent running back Rafiq Douglas said. “Everyone’s happy to be a part of the team, a part of the family, and I think that’s something not a lot of teams have.”