MARRIOTTSVILLE — Chants of “overrated!” rained down with the steady cold mist as Collin Schlee slowly trotted back to the sideline after another inauspicious drive ended in a punt.
Schlee, the top-rated quarterback in Maryland by 247sports, had yet to complete a pass through his first four attempts. On the other side, Liberty, pegged as heavy underdogs going into Friday’s 2A West semifinal matchup, jumped out to a seven-point lead, which soon became 14, and its fan base was fully entertained.
There was no sideline meltdown or panic, just patience and a level of trust. Those heckles turned blasphemous minutes later, when Schlee and his Oakdale Bears dialed up the heat, piling on five scores the next six drives to fuel a 38-14 win at Marriotts Ridge High School and finally stage the long-anticipated Game of the Year.
Schlee finished 15-for-26 with 238 passing yards and two touchdowns to go along with 40 yards on the ground, setting up a clash between the top two state public schools: No. 6 Oakdale at No. 4 Damascus next Friday for the 2A West region title. But first, the Bears debriefed and savored just their second playoff win in program history.
“Some of it’s fun, some of it’s nerve-wracking. We’re not used to being down by 14,” Schlee said of playing from behind for the first time this year. “It puts a lot of pressure on us. But that’s what we like. We like pressure. It’s good to be down once in a while, see how we fight back. We learned from our mistakes.”
A couple long Lion passes stemmed from overzealous Oakdale blitzes led to the unsteady start, when Liberty jumped ahead 14-0 one minute into the second quarter. On their first drive, Lions quarterback Nate Kent was flushed out of the pocket, a swarm of Bears pursuing, and waited just long enough for a 34-yard gain up the right sideline on 3rd-and-7. Two plays later, a similar situation occurred that put the Lions on the goal line after a 31-yard Kent pass. Kent then scored on 4th-and-goal to put his team up 7-0.
After both sides traded punts, with those “overrated!” chants showering down on Schlee and the Bears, prime field position and a 52-yard hookup put Liberty on the 8-yard-line. Nick Henderson then scored two plays later to make it 14-0 with 10:21 left in the second quarter. Liberty ended up with 265 yards of offense on 57 plays, but 130 yards came on those three long Kent passes. Outside of that, the Lions averaged 2.4 yards a play.
“We were just all so antsy to play,” Oakdale middle linebacker Maurio Goings said. “I mean, it’s playoffs, the pressure is high. We weren’t really thinking about our assignments and we just kind of played.”
From there, it was all Oakdale. The Bears responded with a seven-play, 87-yard drive, highlighted by a 42-yard Simeon Sabvute run and capped by a 15-yard Schlee touchdown pass to Ethan Reifer (six receptions for 92 yards). Oakdale’s following drive ended with a 30-yard Justin Ritter field goal, making it 14-10, but on its next offensive series, the tide emphatically turned for good.
The Bears got the ball back with six seconds left in the half, on their own 35 and one timeout remaining. Stein called “Hail Mary 800,” and Schlee delivered, launching a perfectly-placed 65-yard scoring bomb to Blake Baxter in the end zone as the first half expired. It gave Oakdale a 17-14 halftime lead.
Kyle McFadden on Twitter
OH MY!! @CollinSchlee delivers a #SCTOP10, hail mary 65-yard scoring BOMB to Blake Baxter in the closing seconds of the first half, and just like that, @OHSBearsFB leads Liberty 17-14 at the break @SportsCenter @FrederickSports https://t.co/UfqfByneCz
“Just threw it up as hard as I could, as high as I could,” Schlee said.
Oakdale went 88 yards in 11 plays to start the third quarter and Sabvute (157 yards on 17 carries) scored from four yards to make it 24-14. Wyatt McKoy (130 yards on 10 carries) and Goings added short touchdown runs to make it 38 unanswered points.
“Obviously, we had a little bit of a rocky start,” Goings said. “We had blown coverages and everything. But we all came together [and said], ‘Look, if we want to win, we have to tighten everything up. We have to lock up and get ready to go.’ We fixed up our mistakes and we came back.”
The Bears celebrated their second playoff win in team history and then the focus quickly shifted to the looming giant: Damascus, winner of three straight state titles and holder of the nation’s longest active win streak at 53 games.
“It puts a smile on my face,” Goings said. “I’ve been waiting for it for a long time.”
Indeed, it’s been anticipated since the ending of last season. No more speculation or dreaming. It’s finally here.
“We got this one out of the way and now we got the one we’ve been waiting for,” Stein told his group in the post-game huddle. “Since the weight room in July, that’s all I’ve heard: We want Damascus. Now we got them, and we’re going to do whatever it takes.”