A few minutes after his third touchdown of the first half erased any and all momentum once held by Howard , Wise running back John Oliver walked up his sideline and silently flashed three fingers to one of the two dozen former Pumas football players who had gathered for this Maryland 4A semifinal game.
What's unclear is whether Oliver's signal represented the three times he had knifed through the Lions' defense for a score or the fact that his first-half performance had all but sealed top-ranked Wise's third straight trip to the 4A title game.
The senior running back would add a fourth rushing touchdown in the second half of a 42-7 victory Friday in Upper Marlboro. The win marks the third straight time Wise (13-0) has ended Howard's season, having beat it in the 2016 semifinals and the 2015 final . Both of those contests ended with a running clock.
"I looked up to all those guys when they were here, so I knew I had to carry on a tradition for them," Oliver said.
The Pumas will be traveling to Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis on Friday to face off against Quince Orchard in a rematch of last year's championship game. If they can take down the Cougars for a second time, Wise will become the first 4A team to go undefeated and win three straight championships in the modern, four-tiered Maryland playoff system.
"We have one more game to do something that ain't been done," Coach DaLawn Parrish told his team after the game. "Do you get that? Do you understand the importance of that?"
Wise's 41st straight win came in familiar fashion. On offense, the Pumas found a rhythm early thanks to Oliver. After the No. 12 Lions (12-1) tied the score at 7 in the first quarter, the senior took a first-down handoff 57 yards to give his team the lead. A few minutes later, he scored from five yards out, then again from 15 yards. Oliver finished with 14 carries for 128 yards and four touchdowns.
"He's instant offense," Parrish said. "He complements our receivers and quarterback well, and sometimes he can go — bam, gone."
On defense, Wise shut down the Lions' passing game and got three big fourth-down stops. The Pumas showed their big-play ability on the last play of the third quarter with Howard facing a third and goal. Lions quarterback Robby Porter was left exposed on a broken play, and the defense pounced. Junior defensive end Nigel Johnson sprinted around the edge and blindsided the quarterback, knocking the ball loose. Linebacker Christopher Rhodes scooped it up and took it back 92 yards for a touchdown. The Pumas entered the fourth quarter with a running clock.
With one tradition continued, Wise now turns its attention to a familiar foe and a shot at history. When told after the game that Quince Orchard was up big and asked whether he liked a rematch, the Pumas' star smiled.
"We're ready," Oliver said. "Do they want a rematch? That's the question."