Quince Orchard High School linebacker Marcus Newby admitted he was nervous. So did defensive end Kieran Gregory. As did coach Dave Mencarini.
But while Westminster High School shredded Quince Orchard for 77 yards in the final 79 seconds of a Class 4A state semifinal, all without any timeouts left, perhaps quarterback Matt Choi had it worst.
“I couldn't watch any of it,” Choi said. “All I heard was their crowd cheering, and I was like, 'Oh my God, they're driving on us.'
“I peeked a couple of times, and I just saw receivers running. I was about to throw up. I couldn't watch anymore.”
But against one of the Maryland's best offenses, Quince Orchard's defense stepped up early and did just enough late to preserve a 21-19 victory Friday and send Quince Orchard (12-1) to its second straight 4A state championship game, where it will play the winner of Saturday's Henry A. Wise-Meade game.
Quince Orchard led 14-0, trailed 19-14 and won once host Westminster missed a 37-yard field goal with no time remaining — a gut-wrenching playoff game for a team still not over its previous gut-wrenching playoff game. Quince Orchard lost to Old Mill 36-35 in last year's title game, allowing an overtime two-point conversion after relinquishing a 21-0 lead.
“I'm sure there was a lot of people that had the oh-my-God here-we-go-again feeling,” Mencarini said. “But we were able to fight through it.”
Westminster (12-1) entered Friday averaging 45 points per game, and its 19 points were 16 fewer than its previous low. Quince Orchard frequently put few men in the box, but defensive ends Andrew Ankrah and Gregory often pressured Westminster quarterback Deryk Kern anyway.
The Choi-led offense took care of the rest.
Choi who became a starter after Mikey Murtaugh suffered a season-ending injury in the third game threw an 83-yard touchdown pass to Elliott Davis midway through the third quarter for the game's final score. Choi also ran for two touchdowns in the first half and finished with 170 passing yards and 119 rushing yards.
Quince Orchard has won eight straight games since losing to Seneca Valley on Sept. 28. Friday's contest was the first in the streak that didn't have a running clock, but Quince Orchard persevered — a good sign for a team driven to avenge its state-final loss.
“After Mikey Murtaugh went down, they said this isn't our season, next year,” Gregory said. “After we lost to Seneca, they told us the same thing. 'We knew this was going to happen. They're not going to do it.' It's great to prove everyone wrong.”
After the missed field goal, Quince Orchard players and coaches swarmed the field for a wild celebration. Mencarini ran toward the sideline with his arms raised victoriously, stood on a chair and jabbed the air as the Quince Orchard fans cheered in response. As he ran back to join his team, though, he crouched down and looked to the ground.
“Just the emotion of everything our program has been through in the last year,” Mencarini said. “I know exactly how Westminster feels, and it's awful. And it's something that takes a long time to get over.”
Quince Orchard players and coaches freely admit they're still not over last season's loss to Old Mill and that the defeat motivates them. As they look to this year's championship game, they're already talking about something they proved Friday they could do.
“This time,” Newby said, “We're going to finish it.”
Quince Orchard 21, Westminster 19
Quince Orchard (12-1) 7 7 7 0 — 21
Westminster (12-1) 0 19 0 0 — 19
QO — Matt Choi 1 run (Jake Barkdoll kick)
QO — Matt Choi 4 run (Jake Barkdoll kick)
W — Garrett Bean 41 pass from Deryk Kern (Justin Cohen kick)
W — Dan Johnson 3 run (kick failed)
W — Bradley Metcalf 4 pass from Deryk Kern (pass failed)
QO — Elliott Davis 83 pass from Matt Choi (Jake Barkdoll kick)
Quince Orchard — Matt Choi 24-119; Keano Wilder 12-69; D'Andre Johnson 7-31; Tyrell Williams 6-20.
Westminster — Deryk Kern 10-17; Dan Johnson 6-17; Bradley Metcalf 2-7
Quince Orchard — Matt Choi 11-25-170-2.
Westminster — Deryk Kern 24-44-275-2.
Quince Orchard — Elliott Davis 2-99; D'Andre Johnson 4-36; Malcolm Brown 2-23; Bailey Avissar 1-8; Tyrell Williams 2-4.
Westminster — Garrett Bean 7-95; Darius Clifton 7-77; Bradley Metcalf 5-77; Dan Johnson 4-16; C.J. Nichols 1-10.