After ending the regular season with a 2-7 record, the Wilde Lake football team was seeded No. 8 in the expanded MPSSAA playoffs.
The Wildecats have since accomplished what only head coach Brian Henderson, his players and coaches and a few Columbia residents believed was possible — a state quarterfinal appearance.
Wilde Lake, led by disciplined play and a tenacious defense, defeated host Manchester Valley, 22-0, in the second round of the Class 3A East playoffs on Friday night. The win comes a week after the Wildecats stunned No. 1 River Hill, 14-10, in the first round.
“You‘ve done something great,” said Henderson to his players after the game. “You’ve done something great for the school, for the community and — more importantly — for yourselves.”
Wilde Lake football coach Brian Henderson talks Wildecats football after the team's 22-0 win over Manchester Valley in the Class 3A playoffs.
Wilde Lake (4-7) will be re-seeded along with the other seven winners from Friday’s action. The Wildecats will likely be seed No. 8 and play No. 1 Huntingtown (10-0), which defeated St. Charles 17-8 on Friday, in the state quarterfinals next week.
“You’ve just got to have faith,” said Amari Hutson, who made several key tackles on defense and had a 76-yard receiving touchdown. “We took it day by day. The postseason is a new season. We believed that we were 0-0 and that this could happen. We knew we had the talent.”
Henderson was quick to credit his defensive players and defensive coordinator Arthur Robinson for pitching the shutout. Two of the most important plays in the game were by the Wildecats defense — a goal-line stop to end the first half and an interception by Malik Hough to set up the offense’s second touchdown. The unit held the Mavericks offense to 3 yards of offense in the second half and tallied six sacks.
“First off, I have to give a lot of credit to Manchester Valley,” said Henderson. “They really tested us. Defensively, the guys hung in there. The goal-line stop was big. Coach Robinson did a great job with the game plan, and the kids bought in.”
Manchester Valley head coach Bernie Koontz said the Mavericks’ inability to score in the red zone at the end of the first half “wasn’t the deciding part of the game, but it took some wind out of the sails”
“We knew going in that they could stop the run and that they’d be ready to play defensively,” Koontz said. “... I’m not too sure we didn’t get in on one of the early plays there. We had a good play call on fourth down, and we just couldn’t convert.”
While earlier in the season Wilde Lake made self-inflicted mistakes, like penalties and turnovers, that led to losses. After the Wildecats’ 7-0 loss to Marriotts Ridge, Henderson said “Wilde Lake is beating Wilde Lake.” In the postseason, the Wildecats haven’t been beating themselves, he said. Wilde Lake had only one turnover and six penalties in the win Friday — four of which were holdings and none of which were personal fouls.
“I’m extremely proud,” Henderson said. “As the time goes on, I’m watching these guys mature and grow. I don’t believe this is the same group that walked into the season. I think it’s great for Wilde Lake and the kids.”
The first five drives of the game at Manchester Valley High School came up empty for the offenses. No. 4 Manchester Valley (6-5), which employed a spread offense with a focus on the short passing attack, had two punts and a turnover on downs, while Wilde Lake, which relied on quarterback Doniele Cooper’s play-making ability, punted twice.
The Wildecats drew first blood on the first play of their third offensive drive, when Cooper connected with Hutson on a deep slant for a 76-yard touchdown after the junior wide receiver sped past the Mavericks defense. Sam Nason’s extra point put the Wildecats up 7-0 early in the second quarter.
Manchester Valley’s best scoring opportunity in the game came after a third-down interception by Nathaniel Costley gave the Mavs offense the ball at midfield. A 33-yard pass from quarterback Garrett Deltuva to Tyler Rada put the Mavs on the 2-yard line.
“We just came in trying to prove to everyone that we deserved to be here,” said defensive end Cameron Burris, who had three sacks in the victory. “We are on the same page now. We’re all clicking now.”
The second half started much like the first half. The first six drives ended without points. After three straight punts, Wilde Lake’s Ramal West intercepted a pass to give the Wildecats offense the ball in Manchester Valley territory. The Wildecats couldn’t take advantage of the favorable field position, though, and turned the ball over on downs.
The lost opportunity didn’t come back to bite Wilde Lake, as safety Hough would get the Wildecats offense another short field with an interception of his own. Hough, playing center field in Wilde Lake’s defense, was in the right place at the right time after a Mavericks pass was tipped into the air and into Hough’s arms.
“He’s an aggressive player,” Hutson said on Hough. “He’s got that dog mentality. That’s how you’ve got to play.”
The takeaway proved crucial, as running back Izair Perry scored a 4-yard touchdown to put the Wildecats up 14-0 early in the fourth quarter. Perry would seal the victory with a 10-yard rushing score, and Hough’s scamper after a botched snap on the extra-point attempt put Wilde Lake up 22-0 with less than five minutes remaining.
“He’s a tremendous running back,” Henderson said of Perry, who totaled 60 yards on 20 carries. “He’s got great speed and vision. He came through for us.”
Despite the loss, Koontz said he was “proud” of his senior class for the way they played this season.
“We have a great group of kids,” Koontz said. “They got two games on the field that aren’t guaranteed at the beginning. We lost some key players to injuries this season, and we overcame those. I think they’ve shown some great senior leadership for the younger kids to follow down the road.”
The official seedings, with the time and date of Wilde Lake’s likely game against Huntingtown, are to be determined.
“We were big on a second opportunity,” said Henderson on how his team believed it could make a playoff run. “If you could learn from your mistakes and the things that didn’t go your way, this was our chance. Usually you said ‘next season we’ll do this better.’ We told ourselves that next season is now. Who cares how we got in? And we know we’ll hear about that. It’s now about what we can do now we’re in here.”
Wilde Lake 22, Manchester Valley 0
WL — 0 7 0 15 — 22
MV — 0 0 0 0 — 0
WL: Amari Hutson 76-yard pass from Doniele Cooper, Sam Nason kick [7-0]