Quince Orchard running back Marquez Cooper received the ball at the 5-yard line with a minute and a half remaining in the Maryland 4A championship Friday night with one thought on his mind.
“I said I need to score,” Cooper said. “Our whole community needed it.”
Cooper experienced the heartbreak of Quince Orchard’s state championship defeats the past two years, and memories of last season’s fourth-quarter breakdown against Wise flooded into players’ minds late Friday.
But Cooper, a junior, broke free of the demons that haunted the Cougars in their past four trips to this game, scoring his third touchdown to all but seal Quince Orchard’s 40-33 win over North Point.
“It feels really, really good,” senior linebacker Johnny Hodges said.
“They’re going to remember this for the rest of their lives,” Coach John Kelley said.
Quince Orchard fell to Wise in the past two Maryland 4A title games, but the Cougars upended the Pumas in the semifinals this year. North Point surpassed critics’ expectations to reach its first state title game after graduating 18 starters from last season and took a 13-6 lead at the end of the first quarter Friday.
But Quince Orchard wore down North Point’s defense with Cooper, who rushed for 256 yards on 39 carries. Even rapper Wale, a Quince Orchard alum in attendance, complemented Cooper at halftime Friday.
“If we played like we did tonight any other time, we would’ve beaten them by 50,” North Point wide receiver Malik Lawrence said. “I swear.”
Momentum swung to Quince Orchard midway through the third quarter. North Point quarterback Asa Williams fumbled, and defensive lineman Kevon Carter-Hackey returned the ball 61 yards for a touchdown, putting the Cougars up by 10.
North Point battled back and came within seven points with 5:47 left. That’s when Cooper led Quince Orchard’s 80-yard drive, capped by his five-yard rushing touchdown.
Players began embracing each other on the sideline and dancing on benches in front of the school’s student section. Kelley lost his red hat after receiving a celebratory water bath, and it remained on the field for another three minutes while he ran around the field hugging players and coaches.
“We were becoming the Buffalo Bills,” Kelley said.
While some Quince Orchard players held up the Maryland 4A trophy in front of their fans, others stood in tears. In February, the players promised each other they’d win a state championship for Tyler Terry, a former player who died after suffering cardiac arrest.
The Cougars will return the majority of their offensive starters next season, including quarterback Brian Plummer and Cooper. Kelley joked he’ll use the rest of the weekend to review film for next season, but for at least one night, the Cougars would relish a feat they’d been craving since 2011.
“We finally won this joint,” running back Zachery Genovez screamed toward his teammates as they sprinted around the field in celebration.