Wilde Lake head coach Mike Harrison said former Wildecats coach Doug Duvall, his mentor and a legend in the coaching ranks in the state of Maryland, had a saying when he was on the sidelines:
“In all the years that I spent with him, coach Duvall always said ‘it’s better to be lucky than good.’ Well, hopefully we will get lucky again next Thursday night,” Harrison said.
On Friday night, in the Class 3A state semifinals game against host Damascus, Wilde Lake was both lucky and good.
The Wildecats forced the Hornets into turning the ball over five times on their way to a 21-14 win. In victory, Wilde Lake (10-3) earned a berth in Thursday night’s state title game at M&T Bank Stadium opposite Franklin (11-2) of Baltimore County, a 15-14 winner over Huntingtown (9-4).
“I’m a little overwhelmed right now,” said a noticeable hoarse Harrison. “In the first half, I thought we played just tremendous, defensive football. That is a great, great football team in Damascus. They’ve got a great quarterback, four great receivers, a tailback that can go and I thought my kids just rose to the occasion.”
Running backs Alvin Harris (15 carries, 65 yards) and E.J. Gilman (23 carries, 86 yards) sandwiched scoring runs of 3, and, 1-yard around an 8-yard scoring reception by Khalil Viera from Joe Kelly, who also ran for a two-point conversion.
Defensive back Nick Pelletier made two interceptions, while Teka Hayes, Bryce McDaniel and Kenzie Evans recovered fumbles as Wilde Lake of Howard County shocked Maryland’s No. 1-ranked, previously unbeaten Damascus of Montgomery County on the road.
The win was the third straight triumph for the Wildecats on the road, having vanquished both Howard County rivals, Atholton and River Hill, respectively, in the Class 3A East Region semifinal and final games.
In defeating Atholton and River Hill, Wilde Lake avenged two of their three regular-season losses, with the other being against Hammond.
On Damascus’ first drive of the game, Pelletier picked off Hornets quarterback Connor Frazier to set up the Wildecats with a first down at the Hornets’ 36-yard line. Five plays later, Harris powered his way in for a three-yard score, giving Wilde Lake a 7-0 advantage.
Entering the contest, Frazier had thrown 21 touchdown passes to just one interception.
On the ensuing kickoff, the ball bounced off of a Damascus player and was recovered by Bryce McDaniel, giving the ball back to the Wildecats. Wilde Lake pushed the ball to the Hornets’ 21-yard line before turning it over on downs.
Early in the second quarter, the Wildecats were again stopped on fourth-down, this time at the Damascus two-yard line, leaving a possible 14 points on the board.
But after a Hornets three-and-out, Wilde Lake capped a 10-play drive with an eight-yard touchdown pass from Kelly to Viera. The extra point was blocked but the Columbia school held a 13-0 advantage at the half.
“We knew what we had to do. We watched film all week, we read our keys and just made plays,” said Pelletier, who intercepted a Frazier pass in the end zone with 8.8 seconds left in the first half. “[The defense] just stepped up big when we had to.”
In the third quarter, Damascus was driving the ball into Wilde Lake territory. Frazier hooked up with wide receiver Joel Ross for a big gain before Wildecats junior Antoine Barnes put a hit on Ross in the open field, forcing him to put the ball on the ground. Hayes fell on it, giving the Hornets their fourth turnover of the game.
However, Damascus kept battling and closed to within, 13-7, with 2:49 left in the third quarter after Frazier’s 9-yard pass to Zach Bradshaw. But the Wildecats forced another turnover when Jordan Mynatt put a hit on the Damascus punt returner and Evans recovered.
With another shot at scoring, Gilman’s 1-yard run, followed by Kelly’s conversion run with 2:10 left to play, put the visitors up, 21-7.
“The key tonight was to keep the ball away from their offense,” said Kelly. “Their offense is supposedly the best in the state, so we were trying to keep it out of their hands, [going] five yards at a time, getting first downs and putting it in the end zone and that’s what we did.”
“I was just running behind my line, behind my lead blockers,” said Gilman, who put several defenders on their backs in the game. “That’s it, just running hard with my shoulder down.”
The Hornets scored again, making it 21-14 with 41 seconds left on an eight-yard pass from Frazier to Ross that was followed by Alberto Marroquin’s second extra point kick, but the Wildecats’ Chancy Waters recovered the ensuing onside kick.
From there, Kelly took a knee to allow the game’s remaining time to run off of the clock.
Wilde Lake will be in search of the program’s sixth state title on Thursday night at 7 p.m. Two seasons ago, in Doug Duvall’s last campaign, the Wildecats made it to the state finals before being turned away by Westlake, 13-0.
Duvall was at the game last night and liked what he saw from his former team:
“Wilde Lake came out here tonight and just flat out played. That was impressive from the start to the finish…Turnovers are huge in a game like this and Wilde Lake came to play; they did what they had to do.”
CLICK RELATED VIDEOS TAB UNDER THE HEADLINE FOR GAME HIGHLIGHTS AND INTERVIEWS!
|Wilde Lake 21, Damascus 14|
|WL-Harris 3 run (Kelly kick) – 6:20|
|WL-Viera 8 pass from Kelly (kick blocked) – 1:20|
|D-Bradshaw 9 pass from Frazier (Marroquin kick) – 2:49|
|WL-Gilman 1 run (Kelly run) – 2:10|
|D-Ross 8 pass from Frazier (Marroquin kick) – 0:41|