About 10 weeks ago now, the defending Maryland 4A state champion Wise Pumas practiced in the hot evening sun on the grass practice field behind the school, preparing for another year of big wins and late November games.
Wednesday night, the Pumas were in sneakers, walking through their gameplan for their regular-season finale Saturday, helmets and pads on and shoes squeaking as they practiced under the lights of the Wise gym.
Lessening daylight and change of practice venue mark a shift in the Pumas of the past 10 weeks, a season that’s seen unexpected losses, a season-ending injury to Penn State-bound senior defensive back Marcus Allen, and a final-game win-and-you’re-in scenario this week against C.H. Flowers. Wise may not have known it in early September after last year’s undefeated dominance, but this year’s Pumas learned they’re mortal.
“I believe losses are a good thing. You learn from losses,” Wise Coach DaLawn Parrish said. “Some things you might have taken for granted, you don’t take for granted. It makes you get on your P’s and Q’s. I think we got better. . . if the season ended today, you’d say it’s not the season you wanted. But the season’s not going to end today.”
Despite the integration of several new faces and the loss of some crucial familiar ones, the Pumas have overcome defeats to No. 5 Suitland (9-0), a surprise loss to Bowie, and a one-point loss to No. 15 DuVal (8-1) to position themselves to clinch the No. 3 seed in Maryland’s 4A South region with a win over Flowers (7-2) Saturday.
They’ve pulled themselves up from the 2-2 and then 4-3 playoff brink with a team defensive effort that’s allowed the second-fewest points in Prince George’s 4A behind only undefeated Suitland. But as Parrish points out, his leading tackler has just 49 tackles through five games, a product of the personnel shuffling injuries and losses required.
Five of Wise’s six wins have been shutouts, most in Prince George’s 4A, and that’s been enough to back an oft-adjusted offensive attack that’s relied on grueling yards from bruising running back/fullback Adam Gillis Jr. (791 yards rushing) and the occasional clutch catch from Afernee Perry (23 receptions, 367 yards) and big tight end Micah Till (10 receptions, 224 yards).
“It’s all coaching for real. We’re all so well-coached that when someone goes down, the player that comes in knows just as much as the starter does,” Till said. “So the talent may be different, but as long as they know what to do, they’ll be there when a play happens.”
If the Pumas beat Flowers, they’re into the playoffs. If they lose, only a particular combination of results from around the county would knock Wise from the final playoff spot and send Bowie (5-4) in.
“I always thought as long as we kept trying, pushing, working our hardest, we’d always have a chance,” Till said. “We may not clean the table [in the playoffs] like we did last year. But most definitely I think we can still run the table. We just have to play the Wise way: hard, 110 percent, every minute of the game no matter what. Play our heart out.”