It started as a murmur, a simple statement passed between teammates on the Patuxent sideline. But when the final seconds ticked away in Friday night’s Maryland 2A semifinal against Patterson, the statement had become reality: The Panthers are going to ‘The Bank.’
With a 42-8 rout of Patterson, sixth-ranked Patuxent kept its undefeated season alive and advanced to the state title game for the first time since 2001. Next Saturday, the Panthers will arrive at ‘The Bank’ — Baltimore’s M&T Bank Stadium — and face Middletown (13-0) for the Maryland 2A championship. The Knights, winners of the last two 2A titles, advanced with a 31-7 win over Kent Island.
“Every high school kid’s goal is to get to the Bank,” Coach Steve Crounse said. “Once we got through the Gwynn Park game [in the region final], all of the sudden, it was there. We talked about it, but now it’s right there. We’re on the doorstep.”
The Panthers (13-0) arrived on that doorstep in large part thanks to senior running back Rafiq Douglas, who ran for 134 yards and three touchdowns in the first half en route to a 28-8 lead.
“That was the game plan: to knock them off at the beginning,” Douglas said. “I couldn’t say enough about the offensive line. It all starts with the line. I couldn’t give them enough praise in the world.”
The 6-foot-1, 210-pound senior had touchdown runs of 20 and 28 yards in the first quarter before bursting through a hole in the second quarter for a 38-yard score. He finished with 146 yards on 13 carries.
“They were crowding the line of scrimmage, but once he broke through, he showed you some of his long speed too,” Crounse said. “His explosive runs really set us off tonight. Big runs make it easy to call an offense.”
The coach’s son, junior quarterback Tyler Crounse, added 104 passing yards and 93 rushing yards. He also threw for two scores.
The Panthers slowed running back Sherrod Hawkes, who entered Friday with more than 1,600 rushing yards on the season, and forced the run-first Clippers to throw. And when they threw, Patuxent swatted the ball down at the line of scrimmage or otherwise prevented all but one completion.
The Clippers grew frustrated, committing a series of dangerous and meaningless personal foul penalties in the fourth quarter. On one play, Patuxent punt returner Joe Parsons called for a fair catch and was crushed while the ball was still in the air by a Patterson defender, who was then ejected.
Douglas was one of several players who wanted to retaliate after the play. But he couldn’t. The Panthers, after all, were going to the Bank. So they retaliated with big plays instead, adding a late touchdown before Kyle Randall’s interception in the final two minutes sealed the win.
“It’s an amazing feeling,” Douglas said of reaching the state title game. “I’m at a loss for words.”
“To finally get here after 12 years, it’s just real special,” Steve Crounse said. “I’m going to enjoy it for, oh, two hours and then start watching Middletown.”