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On a day that saw the sun peek out only briefly, leaving players from both teams to navigate a soggy terrain, the Suitland High School football team weathered a mistake-prone second half and outlasted previously unbeaten Charles H. Flowers, 19-18, in yet another dramatic confrontation between the two County 4A League rivals.
Last year, Suitland won 14-7 in overtime. In 2009, the Rams won 21-20 in double overtime when the teams met in the regular season, but Flowers notched a 34-27 victory against Suitland in the playoffs, scoring the winning touchdown with 26 seconds left.
Saturday’s game was more of the same.
Suitland had a solid first half and took a 13-0 lead into the intermission. The Rams played well on all levels early, but the Jaguars owned much of the second half and the hosts escaped with the narrow victory.
“It doesn’t matter when we play them or where we play them, you know it’s going to be a very tough game,” said Suitland coach Ed Shields, whose team improved to 5-0, while Flowers dropped to 4-1. “Today it came down to one point. Flowers knew that we wanted to come out and run the ball and they did a good job of taking that away from us in the first half. Fortunately, [quarterback] Nyema [Washington] made some plays in the second quarter and we finally started to get [running back] Anthony [Squire] going a little bit in the fourth quarter.”
Flowers coach Mike Mayo has become all too familiar with watching his team start slowly and then rely on late scores to prevail. Two weeks ago the Jaguars needed a 49-yard Hail Mary pass on the last play of the game to upend Bladensburg, 25-20, and last weekend they spotted Northwestern a 13-0 lead before rallying for a 14-13 victory. Saturday afternoon the Jaguars again started slowly, although the first half could have been much different.
Flowers had the game’s first genuine scoring threat when the Jaguars started in Rams’ territory and reached the Suitland 10-yard line. Senior quarterback Johnathan Holland connected with Chris Jackson on a sideline pattern. But after turning upfield with the ball, Jackson was unable to avoid stepping out of bounds at the Rams’ 22-yard line, although there were no Suitland defenders in front of him.
“You have to know where you’re going at all times,” Mayo said. “He turned upfield and just stepped out of bounds on his own. That was a big mental mistake. But that’s what’s been killing us in these games. We’ve been making way too many mental mistakes. You can’t expect to fall behind 13-0 every week and think you can come back and win every time.”
Following two run plays each from Brendan Hylton and Edwin Walker that moved the Jaguars to the Suitland 10-yard line, Hylton fumbled on a toss play and Suitland’s Taivan Hall recovered the ball and returned it 13 yards.
After a scoreless first quarter, Suitland had a second-quarter possession that started at the Flowers 38-yard line and scored in seven plays. Washington completed three passes on the drive, the last one to Anthony Jackson for an 11-yard touchdown on a fourth down play. On the ensuing extra point attempt, Dakori Ellis’ kick hit the right upright and landed in the end zone, in front of the crossbar, but the two referees standing in front of the goal posts both stepped forward and signaled that the kick was good, even though the ball did not make it through the uprights.
“I could tell from where I was standing that the kick was no good,” Mayo said. “The sideline official told me the ball bounced back into the end zone.”
Flowers crossed midfield briefly on its next possession before being forced to punt, and the Rams countered with a 10-play, 70-yard drive that resulted in another Washington touchdown pass. With the pocket collapsing around him, Washington dumped the ball off to Squire, who plowed forward and completed an 8-yard scoring play that gave the Rams a 13-0 halftime lead.
“I just looked up and saw [Squire] there and dropped it in his hands,” Washington said. “I was looking downfield the whole time, and then I felt the defender on my left and just got it away. It feels good to come away with a win and start off 5-0. We know this year we have to get back to the playoffs and finish what we started. We didn’t do that last year.”
After being blanked in the first half, Flowers took the second half kickoff and marched 66 yards on 14 plays — 10 of them runs by Walker — and finally got on the board when Holland scored on a 3-yard run. The Jaguars then duplicated that feat on their next possession, going 72 yards on 14 plays with Walker getting the last yard on fourth and goal.
Suitland promptly countered with its best series of the half and went 70 yards on nine plays, this time relying primarily on Squire. After being contained through much of the first three quarters, Squire carried the ball six times for 47 yards and scored on a 1-yard run to give the Rams a 19-12 lead with just under five minutes remaining.
Flowers, however, was not about to surrender so easily. On third and 12 from his own 28-yard line, Holland connected with tight end Monte Taylor between defenders near midfield. The 6-foot-3, 235-pound Taylor ripped the ball away from a Suitland safety who had his hands on it, shook off a tackler and then rambled the remaining distance for a 72-yard touchdown. On the two-point conversion, however, Holland rolled to his left and threw an incomplete pass.
Flowers had the ball one final time, starting from its 30-yard line with less than a minute to play and no timeouts. Taylor caught a 19-yard pass on the last play of the game.
Suitland 19, Flowers 18
Flowers (4-1) 0 0 6 12 -- 18
Suitland (5-0) 0 13 0 6 -- 19
S: Jackson 11 pass from Washington (Ellis kick)
S: Squire 8 pass from Washington (kick failed)
F: Holland 3 run (kick failed)
F: Walker 1 run (run failed)
S: Squire 1 run (kick failed)
F: Taylor 72 pass from Holland (pass failed)
RUSHING LEADERS: F - Walker 36-120; S - Squire 19-99
PASSING LEADERS: F - Holland 10-14-198; S - Washington 11-19-120-1
RECEIVING LEADERS: F - Taylor 4-133, Smith 3-42; S - Jackson 2-24, Washington 4-25, Jacobs 2-45, Squire 1-8