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Marquez Cooper carries big load as No. 12 Quince Orchard tops No. 19 Paint Branch

Quince Orchard running back Marquez Cooper (No. 15) and his teammates celebrate on the field after their 24-8 win over Paint Branch on Friday night. (Kyle Melnick/Washington Post)

After breaking multiple tackles during his 17-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter Friday night, Quince Orchard running back Marquez Cooper kneeled in the end zone for five seconds and took a moment to reflect before returning to the sideline.

Earlier this week, Northwest student Josh Snyder, who wrestled with Cooper growing up, died in a car accident. In February, Tyler Terry, a senior on the Cougars’ football team, died after suffering cardiac arrest.

Cooper kept Snyder and Terry on his mind while he ran for 229 yards and two touchdowns in No. 12 Quince Orchard’s 24-8 win over No. 19 Paint Branch, a victory that showed the Cougars (5-1) again should be a top competitor in the Maryland 4A playoffs.

“With Josh . . . and Tyler,” Cooper said, “[my play] has been about them.”

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Quince Orchard Coach John Kelley knew Cooper would be a star when he watched Cooper play his freshman year on junior varsity.

Cooper rushed for 1,199 yards as a starter last season, but he shared the workload with quarterback Doc Bonner.

With sophomore quarterback Brian Plummer taking over Bonner’s role, the Cougars have leaned on Cooper. The junior has rushed for 799 yards and 13 touchdowns this season while Plummer becomes more comfortable in the offense.

In Quince Orchard’s 22-14 loss to Bullis on Sept. 21, Cooper ran for 77 yards while the Bulldogs loaded the box. The Cougars adjusted their run protection after that defeat.

“The last two weeks, I’ve been stressed out,” Kelley told his team after the game. “I lost like 10 pounds.”

Paint Branch (5-1) had allowed 2.8 points per game entering Friday, but the Panthers couldn’t contain Cooper.

Cooper said he only rested three days this past summer, instead spending his time at Athletic Performance Inc. in Gambrills to add 15 pounds and become better conditioned for more carries.

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Kelley doesn’t like giving a player more than 25 carries in a game, but against a top Montgomery County 4A team, Cooper received the ball 34 times.

“These are the games he can show off,” Kelley said.

Cooper is reminded of Terry by a helmet decal with Terry’s initials. The 5-foot-7, 170-pound running back wears No. 15 because his late uncle, Dominique, wore that number while playing for Seneca Valley.

On the field after the game, Cooper shouted out Tyler, Josh and Dominique in front of a camera while his teammates guessed how many yards he ran for.

The Cougars have beaten the Panthers in four consecutive seasons, but Kelley says his team’s offense can become more versatile.

As Quince Orchard aims for a state championship after losing to Wise in the title game the past two years, Cooper will keep his loved ones on his mind.

“Our work is not done,” Kelley told his team. “The aspirations we have are not complete.”