It took five takeaways and a nearly perfect offensive game plan to beat previously undefeated Damascus at home, but that's exactly what Wilde Lake got in its 21-14 win Friday night in the Class 3A state semifinals.
The No. 9 Wildecats will play Franklin (11-2) for the 3A state championship at 7 p.m. Thursday at M&T; Bank Stadium.
"We've been watching their film all week, and we knew what they were going to do," said senior defensive back Nick Pelletier, who made two first-half interceptions, the first of which set up a touchdown by A.J. Harris to give Wilde Lake a 7-0 lead. "We knew that they were heavy favorites, and we knew that everybody thought they were going to win. We just had heart and believed in ourselves; that's all we've been doing all playoffs."
The Wildecats scored late in the second quarter on an 8-yard pass from Joe Kelly to Khalil Viera to take a 13-0 halftime lead.
Teka Hayes recovered a fumble caused by Jordan Mynatt to end Damascus' first drive of the second half.
The Wildecats punted to end their first drive of the fourth quarter but recovered the ball inside the Damascus 30-yard line after Mynatt met the return man at the same time as the ball and jarred it loose.
That possession yielded a touchdown by E.J. Gilman on fourth-and-goal from 1 yard with just more than two minutes left, essentially clinching the win.
"Our special teams just [made the plays] for us. We kept telling them in practice, 'Special teams, if you start it off, we're going to end it,'" said Gilman, who had 87 yards on 23 carries to lead the Wildecats.
Wilde Lake, which won the most recent of its five state titles in 1997, had to defeat two teams it had lost to in the regular season, Atholton and River Hill, in the regional tournament to advance to the state semifinals.
"Offense, defense, special teams, the kids believe in the plan that we have right now, and they're executing," second-year Wilde Lake coach Mike Harrison said. "The fumble, the two turnovers on special teams, that all adds up and gives us more offensive touches, and that was huge in the game."
Damascus had made the playoffs each of the past 12 seasons and won the most recent of its seven state titles in 2007 after defeating Wilde Lake in the state semifinals.
"Five turnovers -- we haven't had any game where we've lost the turnover margin the whole year," Damascus coach Eric Wallich said.
Damascus senior quarterback Connor Frazier, who went 12-for-25 passing for 128 yards and rushed for 87 yards on 11 carries, threw touchdown passes to Zach Bradshaw and Joel Ross. The second came with 40 seconds left in the game, but Wilde Lake recovered the ensuing onside kick attempt to finish things off.
WL 7 6 0 8 — 21
Da 0 0 7 7 — 14
WL—Harris 3 run (Kelly kick)
WL—Viera 8 pass from Kelly (kick blocked)
D—Bradshaw 8 pass from Frazier (Marroquin kick)
WL—Gilman 1 run (Kelly run)
D—Ross 8 pass from Frazier (Marroquin kick)