Suitland's Taivon Jacobs, center, makes a catch during the Maryland… (Toni L. Sandys/The Washington…)
Wise Coach DaLawn Parrish has watched his team’s defense rack up 37 turnovers, 66 sacks and eight shutouts this season, but the seventh-year coach points to a seemingly innocuous play against Eleanor Roosevelt on Nov. 10 to best sum up his unit’s progress.
In the Maryland 4A South region semifinal, the Raiders tried to run a sweep toward senior Frank Porter. Rather than attempt to make a risky tackle on the running back, the linebacker smartly drilled the lead blocker to the turf, trusting a teammate would finish the play. Parrish celebrated when Porter’s hit slowed up the rusher just enough for senior D’Angelo Niler to come over and make the tackle at the line of scrimmage.
“I’ve been like a proud father watching a boy become a man,” Parrish said. “Watching these kids understand the commitment, dedication and teamwork it takes to get something like this done, it’s been a blessing to me.”
With a defense that features five players committed to or holding scholarship offers from Football Bowl Subdivision or Football Championship Subdivision schools, the Pumas have as much defensive talent as any area team. They’ve lived up to the expectations, winning their first 13 games, each by at least three scores, to earn a spot in Friday’s Maryland 4A state final against Quince Orchard (12-1) at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.
After losing in the 2009 and 2010 championship games, the six-year-old Upper Marlboro school will try once again for its first state title behind a defense that starts seven seniors and four juniors who have grown up together on the field.
“Everybody’s hungry,” said Porter, who is orally committed to Old Dominion. “We’re hungry for shutouts, hungry for those doughnuts — that’s all it is. Defense is all about having an attitude.”
Parrish, a former Howard High standout who went on to play safety at Wake Forest, has built his young program’s success on defense. He credits the late Suitland Coach Nick Lynch for teaching him the best ways to relay the principles he preaches daily: “Bottom line: Be physical, be relentless and always have the kids flying around to get to the football,” Parrish said.
Wise plowed through its first unbeaten regular season this fall and has outscored its opponents, 535-43. The Pumas have trailed only once, and briefly, after ceding an early score in an eventual 51-14 win over Bowie. The team has given up six touchdowns on the year, while scoring seven on defense.
Parrish’s squad earned another chance to become the first football state champion from Prince George’s County since 2006 with a convincing 40-0 victory over Meade on Saturday, finishing off another shutout with a goal-line stand in the final minutes.
“They’re big, fast and athletic at all the positions,” said Suitland Coach Ed Shields, whose team was held scoreless by the Pumas until the final play of a 41-6 loss in the region final. “You put that with their coaching, and you have the possibility for a state championship.”
In 2009, Wise — led by All-Met defensive lineman Anthony McDaniel and a host of other future major college players — set a Maryland public school record by recording eight straight shutouts on the way to its first final appearance before falling to Old Mill, 17-16.
A few current seniors began dressing with that team in the playoffs, but mostly, they stayed in the background and tried to learn.
“We kind of looked up to those guys,” said Niler, who leads the Pumas with 110 tackles.
By the time Wise made it back to M&T Bank Stadium the following year, Antonio Harris, Jai Franklin and Benjamin Robinson were among the then-sophomores making an impact.
After starting the entire 2010 season at inside linebacker, Porter broke his leg in the first playoff game that season and was replaced by his classmate Niler, who led the junior varsity squad in tackles. That team held Urbana to one score in the state final but lost, 6-0.
Porter remembers being on crutches in the stadium’s tunnel and promising Parrish he’d lead the team back before his high school career finished, providing a rallying point two years in the making for a tight-knit unit with one game left together.
“We’re back there,” Porter said. “This is going to be the time we bring [the state championship trophy] back.”