On Black Friday, it was a dark Friday for the Howard football team.
Taking on host Henry A. Wise in a 4A state semifinal, the Lions never stood a chance. Pumas quarterback Jabari Laws accounted for six total touchdowns – three rushing and three passing – to lead his team a 48-0 victory and a trip to their second straight state championship game.
It's the 27th straight victory for Wise and its seventh shutout of the year. It will face Quince Orchard in the title game at Navy–Marine Corps Memorial Stadium at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 2.
"I guess it was sort of the same thing as last year – a lot of mismatches individually, up front and secondary wise," said Pumas coach DaLawn Parrish, whose team beat Howard, 55-6, in last year's state championship game. "We knew they couldn't block us up front, they couldn't cover us. It was almost like the scheme that helped [Howard] get here hurt them against us. They spread it out and was playing athlete versus athlete and we had a lot of mismatches."
Howard coach Bruce Strunk said last year's title-game defeat hurt them in that his team lost some confidence when the Pumas scored early on quick drives.
"I think last year's game haunted us a little bit and our heads went down a little early," he said. "They're a hell of a football team. They have speed everywhere and any mistake you make they can score. I'm really proud of our kids; we're a pretty young team."
Wise (13-0) entered the contest averaging more than 45 points per game while allowing less than six, and it showed why against a Howard (11-2) team that came in giving up less than eight points per game.
Defensively, the Pumas were just as dominant. The Lions' longest gain of the night was a 13-yard reception late in the game and their longest run of the night was just 10 yards. It's the first time they have been shutout since November 11, 2011 in a 29-0 regional semifinal loss to River Hill.
The Pumas scored touchdowns on their first seven drives of the game spanning into the early part of the second half. They scored on plays of 26, 73, 47, 16, 30, six and 48 yards and needed only 32 plays to score 48 points.
The Lions went three-and-out to start the game and the Wise star quarterback and Army commit did the rest.
Laws found Khyree Jackson over the middle for a 26-yard touchdown reception to cap a 69-yard drive, and on their next possession junior AJ Lytton showed off his Division-I talent by hauling in a 73-yard touchdown. He caught the ball over the middle, juked a defender and outran several Howard defenders to go untouched into the end zone and put Wise up 14-0 with 12 seconds left in the first quarter.
Lytton, who finished the evening with three receptions for 110 yards and two touchdowns and is being recruited by top BCS schools like Florida State, Florida, Michigan and Penn State, according to Parrish, said he knew his team was going to perform in a big way from the first offensive snap.
"I could see doubt in their eyes as they warmed up," Lytton said. "I knew we were going to continue to do what we did throughout the season – play really good."
Pumas running back John Oliver (12 carries, 108 yards) broke free for a 47-yard touchdown run on the second play of the second quarter to make it 20-0. Demetri Morsell then got his first of three interceptions on Howard's next drive, which the Pumas finished off three plays later on Laws' 16-yard touchdown run on a 3rd and 15.
Morsell got his second pick on the next Lions drive and Lytton scored on a 30-yard reception soon after.
Laws' second touchdown run, which put Wise up 41-0, late in the first half came on a six-yard scamper. He scored on a 48-yard run – his last play of the night – two plays into the second half to create the final margin of victory.
An extended look at the local high school football programs in Howard County entering the 2016 season.
"Looking at them, there were mismatches out on the field," said Strunk. "We had to pick our poison. They make a lot of adjustments during the play and we just tried to do the best we could."
Laws finished the night 6-for-8 passing for 168 yards – all in the first half – to go with six carries for 80 yards.
"Jabari is a true leader. He's a three-year starter," said Parrish, a Howard High graduate. "There's a lot of wins under his belt. He understands the offense and we've been able to add to the offense based on his versatility and his knowledge of the game."
Howard simply couldn't sustain enough drives to ever threaten the Pumas without running back Devin Dawkins, who broke his collarbone in the second quarter of the Lions' regional final victory over Mervo Nov. 18.
Running backs DJ Howard and Robert Agbai combined for 20 carries for 51 yards but couldn't break free from the dominating defensive line of Wise. Passing against the Pumas defensive backs didn't work either. Howard junior quarterback Robby Porter went 10-for-16 for 49 yards passing and three interceptions.
"When you don't have a guy like Devin out there, it's going to hurt you," Strunk said. "The other guys that stepped in did a great job and ran with a lot of heart. We went up against a very, very good football team tonight.
"Our kids fought the whole time. Even during the fourth quarter they're out there just playing football and that's what it's all about. For us to get back to the semifinals again this year, I'm really proud of our group."