Northwest's defense stopped Suitland on fourth down with four minutes left in the final quarter of the state Class 4A football championship, and then the offense took control.
Jaguars sophomore quarterback Mark Pierce lined up behind center, watched wide receiver Matt Watson come open on a wheel route, and hit him for a 77-yard score Northwest's E.J. Lee later ran for a touchdown to finish a 33-16 win over Suitland, earning the second football state championship in school history.
“They both jumped up on [wideout Josh Gills] and Watson was wide open,” Pierce said. “I just laid it out there, and hopefully he catches it because nobody is going to catch him.”
The title win was the Jaguars' first as a member of Class 4A, after winning the Class 3A title in 2004.
After trailing the entire game, Suitland (13-1) looked to narrow the gap with a furious fourth quarter comeback. Rams quarterback Wesley Wolfolk drove his team 92 yards to convert a 4-yard touchdown pass to tight end Daryl Jasper. After he added a two-point conversion run, the lead was narrowed to a single possession.
The Rams had a chance to go ahead after driving down the field again, but Wolfolk's desperation pass to the endzone on fourth and 7 was batted down by Northwest's Luke Pierce.
“I was pretty nervous actually, because they are a second-half football team,” Northwest coach Mike Neubeiser said. “But the kids rose up and made a huge fourth-down play.”
Mark Pierce took over after that, finishing 12 of 22, for 261 yards and two touchdowns. His top target was Josh Gills, who came down with five catches for 84 yards and a touchdown. Cornerback Rodney Snider had an interception and multiple pass breakups to help contain the Suitland passing attack.
“I thought they would have stopped after I got the interception, but they kept going after me,” Snider said. “I knew I was going to shut it down.”
As sheets of rain and mist descended on M&T Bank Stadium, both Northwest and Suitland muddled through a mistake-ridden first half.
The cacophony of errors began with Suitland's Wolfolk missing wide receiver Nicolas Nelson deep on what would have been a sure touchdown. There was a muffed kick return where two Rams players fought over who would catch the ball, a deflected pass that somehow ended up in the arms of an ineligible lineman and a play where Wolfolk inexplicably forgot the snap count and had to fall on the ball on third-and-2.
Northwest seemed to be better suited for the adverse conditions after driving down the field and scoring a touchdown on their first possession, but a missed extra point was a sign of mistakes to come. The team's problems were compounded by a too-high snap, which resulted in a safety, and a missed two-point conversion.
The teams had combined for 10 penalties for 60 yards, an interception and two fumbles (though neither were lost) through one half.
NW 6 6 8 13 -- 33
S 0 2 6 8 -- 16
NW –Lee 6-yard run (Melendez kick blocked)
S – Safety (NW high snap batted out of endzone)
NW – Pierce 30-yard pass to Gills (Pierce pass failed for 2-pt)
S – Wolfolk 40-yard pass to Tevin Singleton (Wigfall run failed for 2-pt)
NW – Gillis 2-yard run (Lee 2-pt conversion run)
S – Wolfolk 4-yard pass to Darryl Jasper (Wolfolk 2-pt conversion run)
NW – Pierce 77-yard pass to Matt Watson (Pierce pass failed for 2-pt)
NW – Lee 10-yard run (Melendez kick good)