Having seen DuVal’s kicker hit from similar range earlier in the game, Shields chose two of his fastest players — running back Brandon Brown and defensive back Nick Nelson — told them to play on the ends of the line, and gave one firm directive.
“This is it,” Shields told his senior speedsters, “You don’t have a choice. You have to [block] it.”
Brown did, diving to get a piece of the kick, which wobbled harmlessly away, low and wide. Suitland held on to win, 18-17, and advance to a Maryland 4A semifinal next week against Meade despite trailing until late in the fourth quarter.
“We’re Suitland,” Brown said. “When you’re Suitland, you don’t give up. You play til the end.”
Partly because of a pumped-up DuVal defense that shut down quarterback Wesley Wolfolk and the Suitland passing game, and partly because of 13 penalties, the Rams (12-0) were rhythmless through two quarters. When they did find their way into Tigers territory, the Rams could not score, halted by a big defensive play by DuVal, an overthrown pass or a missed block.
“We had a number of drives that stalled,” Shields said. “We just couldn’t get over the hump.”
But then, in the fourth quarter, the Rams’ defense forced a four-and-out, keeping the ball out of the hands of the Tigers (10-2), who’d controlled it and the clock for most of the third. A short kick and a big Suitland return gave the Rams first and goal. Brown scored to bring the Rams within five.
Then Wolfolk, who’s made big plays at key moments for Suitland all season, hit fellow senior Robert Wigfall with a 46-yard touchdown pass. For the first time after more than 44 minutes, the Rams led.
“A lot of bad things were going on in the first half and even in the second half. Whatever we did, we just couldn’t make a play,” Wolfolk said. “But all season we’ve been teaching ourselves: no matter what happens, we can still make a play. We’ve got all these playmakers on this team, and he’s one of them.”
DuVal sophomore quarterback Antoine Brooks, who finished the day with 113 yards rushing and 176 yards passing, nearly engineered a game-winning drive in the time remaining. But the Rams’ defense held him off for three downs, and Shields made the fateful switch on the field goal unit that held the Tigers off for a fourth — sending his team to the first state semifinal of his five-year tenure and the program’s first since 2007.
“We told them it was going to be hard, and I don’t think I did a great job explaining that to them,” Shields said. “I think they clearly understand now.”