Division I quarterback recruit Collin Schlee only completed four passes Friday, but it didn’t matter as Oakdale stifled Damascus to win its first-ever region championship. Photo: Austin McFadden.
DAMASCUS — Through the animosity that stirred in the Jurassic-like mud pit, through the edgy anticipation that a thunderous swing from the beastly hosts was only a simple block and dash away, and through the horrid loop of bad memories, they remained stoic and destined.
Months of build-up had been unleashed in the chaos of muck at center stage of Maryland’s toughest venue, but for this group of brothers bonded in spirit, it is years of culmination, from boyhood to hustling for college scholarships, from mightier opponents applying beatdowns to becoming the mighty ones themselves, from the long haul to the final ride.
The embark of this night, stuffed with epicness, anticipation, and a whole lot of trash talk, quickly rekindled that horrid loop of bad memories — the lumbering Hornets offensive front paving a near nine-minute drive for six. But like all season, the course yielded a way and inconveniences didn’t bloat into predicaments: not the abysmal field conditions, which in reality was 100 x 53.3 yards of mud stew, not the fact that their Division I quarterback recruit Collin Schlee completed just four passes, not for the size disadvantage in the trenches.
When the slugfest ended, it amounted to sheer jubilation, an emphatic buzzkill, and a dabble of relief: No. 6 Oakdale 24, No. 7 Damascus 7, the Hornets’ 53-game win streak, which reigned as the longest nationally, foiled from this undeniable effort by a program that was winless in their inaugural season just eight years ago. And through all of this, it’s somehow lost that these Bears (11-0) are 2A West region champions for the first time in program history.
“I have no words,” said Schlee, the dual-threat quarterback who couldn’t do much in the much, going just 4 of 13 with 87 yards and a touchdown through the air. “It’s crazy. Just crazy.”
“Whatever you give this particular group, they freakin’ answer the gosh-darn bell and win the game every single time,” Stein added. “I am so proud of them, I can’t tell you. … They have done it in a hurricane [in Week 10 at Tuscarora]. They have done it when we have had a game canceled [in Week 2]. We have come back from lightning [delays]. It doesn’t matter.”
Oakdale will now host 2A East champion Elkton next Friday in the state semifinals with a shot to reach the 2A title game. That possibility seemed skeptical when Damascus opened resoundingly, plowing 71 yards upfield in 18 plays to jump ahead 7-0 on TD Ayo-Durojaiye’s goal-line score, a piercing drive that bled 8 minutes, 43 seconds off the clock. After that moment, Oakdale middle linebacker and defensive leader Maurio Goings gathered his guys together and demanded more.
“After we did that, our defense got in the huddle and said, ‘Look, that drive happened and it cannot happen again. We have to wrap up better, we have to do everything better,’ ” Goings said. “It was almost like a little click, ‘We can play them.’ We were like, ‘We got this.’ ”
From there, the Bears fastened the clamps and slowly hushed the usually boisterous Damascus home crowd. The Hornets never scored again, mustering 94 yards on the remaining 28 plays and picking up just six first downs compared to Oakdale’s 11.
After a punt and a turnover on downs to begin the game, Oakdale gobbled some momentum when they forced a safety early in the second quarter, making it 7-2. The safety punt plated prime field position for Schlee and the Bears, and six plays after starting on the Hornets 47, Schlee connected with Blake Baxter on an 18-yard score to make it 9-7.
Not long after that, Ethan Reifer forced a fumble while sacking Damascus quarterback Michael O’Neil, and lineman Ben Bevilacqua fell on it in the end zone for another Bears touchdown, extending the Oakdale advantage to 16-7 midway through the second quarter. With seven minutes left in regulation, Oakdale sealed the deal with an 11-play, 80-yard scoring drive polished off by Simeon Sabvute’s (94 yards on 20 carries) goal-line plunge. On the ensuing two-point try, Reifer hit Schlee off a trick pass in the back right corner of the end zone to go up 24-7 and ignite “This is our house!” chants from the Oakdale student section.
When the minutes fleeted, Goings, his white uniform completely lathered and stained with mud, led the post-game celebration. He dashed toward the opposite end zone after the handshake line, twirling his helmet like a baseball pitcher loosening his arm. Others streamed from behind, hoisting helmets sky-high. Stein, the man responsible for building this moment from scratch, zipped from midfield and into the mob, and the Bears danced and howled in unison.
Once the ecstasy cooled, Goings trotted to the bleachers to greet some former teammates, one who prophesied this moment years ago. After Damascus clobbered Oakdale 44-21 in the 2015 3A West semifinals, a then-senior lineman told Goings, a 180-pound freshman at the time, “This better not happen your senior year.”
“You just think about everyone that came before us,” Goings said.
The animosity finally waned. Players and coaches, still exuberant as ever, filed and slogged off the pit of mud and onto the track, packing up shop as the yellow bus fired up near the gym entrance. Some players didn’t want to leave, instead wallowing in that muck and slime, laughing and waving their arms like a formulation of snow angels. Eventually, they had to go. But the memories and destiny, that’s everlasting.
“No matter what you throw at these kids,” Stein said, “they find a way.”