Its region semifinal loss to Suitland High School last year shocked the Henry A. Wise football team, to say the least.
Wise had been 6-0 all-time in region playoff games and 16-0 in its last 16 home games, but suddenly, Suitland ended Wise's quest to reach its third straight state title game.
As he walked off the field, linebacker Franklin Porter vowed he would push aside his sadness and address his returning teammates in the locker room.
“We needed to be talked to,” Porter said. “After you lose a close game and a lot of people are going to be down, you can't be down. You've got to get ready to prepare yourself for the next year.”
So, as soon as Porter walked into the room, the 2011 season ended and the 2012 season began.
“I didn't waste no time,” Porter said. “We had to get ready.”
“I just told our juniors that was coming back, 'We've got to get it done. There ain't no options.'”
Lineman Antonio Harris, also a junior on that team, spoke up, too. He had planned to address the team another day, when the loss wasn't so fresh. But after hearing Porter talk and seeing some of the seniors laugh off the loss, Harris couldn't wait, either.
In no uncertain terms, they spoke that afternoon about winning the program's first state title. It's a goal that Wise hasn't been shy to address since.
“We say we're going to take it one week at a time, but we know the talent on this team,” Porter said. “Honestly, we had the talent last year to win a championship. We just didn't have no leadership. This year, we have leadership from the seniors.”
True to Porter's and Harris' words, Wise (13-0) will play Quince Orchard (12-1) in the 4A state championship game at 7:30 p.m. Friday at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.
Safety Marcus Allen called that players-only meeting his favorite memory while playing for Wise.
“It was a family,” said Allen, who was a sophomore last season. “Now it's all coming true.”
For his part, Porter doesn't believe the meeting immediately turned everyone's attitude from sad to motivated, but that it accelerated the process. Wise coach DaLawn Parrish said his players still looked “somber, shocked” during their exit meeting the following week, though their resolve had begun to show.
“This was going to be the game that propels us to the state finals. I knew it,” Parrish said. “I saw the hurt on the young people's faces.”
When Wise has needed a reminder of its goal since, Porter has delivered it. When Wise beat Bladensburg “just” 32-8 in its regular season finale, Porter talked to his teammates about not letting up. When Wise had a couple spare minutes before the second half of its state semifinal against Meade, Porter reminded them to stay focused. And when Wise beat Meade 40-0, Porter warned them to stop looking so happy.
And his message, from his post-Suitland speech forward, has remained clear.
“We knew, if we just put it all together and just worked, we was going to be here,” Porter said. “But just getting there ain't enough. We've got to bring it home Friday night.”
Last week, the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association held a luncheon for coaches whose teams were still playing. They were given a tour of M&T Bank Stadium, including the room for the championship game winner's news conference and the room for the championship game loser's news conference.
Parrish, whose team lost the 2009 and 2010 title games, stood in the doorway as his friend, Quince Orchard coach Dave Mencarini, approached. Parrish smiled and said, “I'm not going in there. I've been in there twice.”
Wise's players are acutely aware of where they've been and they don't like where that was at the end of last season. It has led to a refreshed focus — Wise won every game this season by at least 20 points — that began to shape precisely 384 days before the team's biggest game of the season.
“This year, we don't take anybody lightly,” Harris said. “Everybody is in our way. And QO is in our way on Friday.”