BALTIMORE — Before he was No. 7 Northwest’s starting quarterback, Mark Pierce was a team ball boy. He watched the Jaguars fall into mediocrity and he was there when they finished with one win in 2010.
Pierce has been instrumental in the team’s turnaround this season, and Friday night in the Maryland 4A championship game at M&T Bank Stadium, he continued to come up big. With less than five minutes left, he saw wide receiver Matt Watson running free behind Suitland’s defense and delivered a perfect pass for a 77-yard touchdown. The play — the longest of the night for either team — put the Jaguars ahead by 10 and all but cemented their 33-16 win over No. 4 Suitland and Northwest’s first state championship since 2004.
“It’s just an amazing feeling. Words can’t explain how we feel right now,” he said. “It feels great to shock the world and get it done.”
While the Rams (13-1) watched their unbeaten season end in heartbreaking fashion, Northwest (12-2) became the first team from Montgomery County to win a state title since Sherwood in 2008. After losing two of their first eight games, the Jaguars turned their season around in an improbable run to the championship.
“We lost twice, but who cares?” senior Josh Gills said. “We just won states.”
The Jaguars played superb defense and were steady on special teams, but Pierce once again stood out. It seemed nearly impossible for the 6-foot sophomore to top his 393 passing yards and six touchdowns in a semifinal shootout against Paint Branch. But Friday night against a stingy Rams defense, his performance was equally — if not more — impressive.
Pierce completed 12 of his 22 passes for 261 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran for 27 yards.
“Marky’s got a lot of poise for a kid his age,” Northwest Coach Mike Neubeiser said.
In the week leading up to Friday night’s game, the talk was about Pierce and Northwest’s offense. But in the game itself, the Jaguars’ widely overlooked defense made a statement.
Senior cornerback Rodney Snider single-handedly broke up a number of long completions and had one interception. Suitland running back Robert Wigfall finished with 31 yards and was a non-factor. And the Rams’ only two points in the first half came at the hands of Northwest punter Trint Coulter, who batted a high snap out of the back of the end zone for a safety.
The offense took it from there. E.J. Lee rushed for a pair of touchdowns, Pierce found Gills for a 30-yard score on a screen pass and Rasheed Gillis followed a 56-yard kickoff return with a one-yard score. When it was all over, Pierce removed his helmet and pointed toward the sky.
His sophomore season ended with a state championship — and he still has two years left.