When Charles Bell made one last cut to beat a final would-be tackler and steer himself toward the end zone, everybody at Quince Orchard seemed to realize a few things at the same time. 

First, Bell was going to take this third-quarter interception of Wise quarterback Quinton Williams back for a touchdown. Second, it would put the Cougars up by three scores over the three-time defending Maryland 4A state champion Pumas. Third, and most important, the past was not going to repeat itself on this frigid Friday in November as Quince Orchard ran past Wise, 31-6.

The Cougars had back-to-back campaigns end with a loss to Wise in the state title game. Those were great teams, with talented players who had decorated careers. Wise had ended all that, making the Montgomery County powerhouse’s seasons feel incomplete. 

But in Friday night’s rematch, this time in the 4A semifinals, Quince Orchard exorcised those demons.

“We were just tired of losing to the same team,” Coach John Kelley said. 

No. 9 Quince Orchard (12-1) looked like a program that had been thinking about this matchup for a long time. The Cougars entered the playoffs after a typically dominant regular season and had little trouble winning the 4A West regional title. It was this opponent, this stubborn foe, that was going to determine whether 2018 was different from all those years that came before it.

“In the offseason, we prepared for this. Losing last year, we prepared for this,” Bell said. 

The Cougars fed running back Marquez Cooper throughout the first half, letting him lead them down the field to two one-yard touchdowns. They led 17-6 at halftime, but it was Bell’s interception midway through the third quarter that made the dream of taking down the No. 5 Pumas (10-2), who also beat Quince Orchard for the 2012 state championship, feel like reality.

Quarterback Brian Plummer found Johnny Hodges on the first play of the fourth quarter to put the Cougars up 31-6 and seal the win.

“It’s definitely the best feeling of my life right now,” Plummer said. “This is the best atmosphere ever.”

The Cougars’ defensive front repeatedly broke through Wise’s sizable line, harassing Williams and stuffing the Pumas’ running game. Its six points Friday served as the lowest scoring output for Wise since December 2010.

“It was different [this time] because we had something to play for and I don’t think they had much to play for,” Cooper said. “Because we lost two years in a row to these dudes in the state championship and they came to our house, we couldn’t let them win again.”

The Cougars must make a quick turnaround from their program-altering victory to the actual state championship game. They will face North Point for the title next week.

“Our goal is to win a state championship,” Kelley said. “Is this a step toward making that happen? It is. But tonight did not win us a state championship.”