Following the chaotic celebration — with players collapsing on the turf, jumping toward the Baltimore night sky and hugging coaches — the Henry A. Wise High School football team organized itself into a long line in preparation to shake hands with Quince Orchard’s depressed players.
Having just defeated the Cougars to win the first state title in school history, Wise’s jubilant players — wearing bright yellow jerseys — congratulated their opponent on a hard-fought game.
And at the end of the line, senior D’Angelo Niler hobbled forward with a significant limp.
As he joined the formation, teammate Chaudiler Shepherd wrapped his arm around Niler and held him up.
It was an appropriate image as, throughout a majority of the 4A state title game, it was Niler who was holding up Wise’s dominant defense.
The quick and powerful senior linebacker finished with 11 tackles (eight solo and one sack) in the Pumas’ 12-7 victory.
“It feels good, man,” an exhausted Niler said outside the locker room at M&T Bank Stadium. “We did this for our coaches. We knew the defense had to go around and fly around. It was up to us. The offense made a big play and we made a big play and we won.”
Niler, a 6-foot-2, 185-pound athletic specimen, said he felt different playing in the championship. Not only because it was played inside a National Football League stadium, but because of how he was able to attack Quince Orchard’s offense. With pulling guards, trapping runs and options Niler was able to penetrate the backfield when he saw fit.
“I told D’Angelo before the game started, ‘This is your game,’” said Wise senior Franklin Porter. “Guards are pulling, you get your chance to make plays and do exactly what you love.”
One such occasion of Niler doing what he loves netted Wise its only sack of the game in the first quarter. Niler came streaking through the line untouched and blindsided Cougars quarterback Matt Choi. That forced an early punt.
“I felt different,” said Niler, who finished the season with 121 tackles and nine sacks. “I kind of knew what they were trying to do. I knew they were trying to establish their run game first and so I was focused on stopping that.”
In the second half, as Quince Orchard running back Tyrell Williams was in the process of torching Wise for 174 yards, Niler made another momentum-changing play.
Williams, who had just broken off his second long run of the night, was given the ball on an inside handoff, but Niler snuffed out the play. Niler was in the backfield as Choi handed the ball to Williams and proceeded to tackle Williams down with two hands. It was a big moment considering Williams was making Wise’s defense look like tackling dummies in the second half.
“We can fight under pressure,” Niler said. “A lot of our players, they’ve got the physical ability to do it and they’ve got the mental ability to do it. A lot of our players, they play better when they have a foot on their neck.”
Niler, who only began playing football five years ago and fancies himself more of a basketball player, said he remained motivated throughout the season by last year’s loss to Suitland in the playoffs.
“We said to ourselves that will never happen again. We had to execute our plays,” he said. “The defense would fly around and we’ll play physical football. That’s us. That’s Wise High School. Physical football.
“And we’re champions now. I’m at a loss for words.”
As the Pumas trickled out of the locker room, many carrying their pads and helmets onto the bus for the final time in high school, Niler smiled when a pair of his teammates yelled out, “Hey. We got practice at [9 a.m.] on Monday. Don’t be late.”