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The Cougars are back in the saddle led by a surprising quarterback


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Published on: Thursday, November 29, 2012

By Brandy L. Simms

The Quince Orchard Cougars are back in the saddle again.

The football program is just one win shy of capturing the Gaithersburg school’s first state championship since 2007 and their third ever state crown.

The Cougars suffered a disappointing 36-35 overtime loss in last year’s Class 4A title game so many of this year’s seniors were on a mission to get back to Baltimore’s M&T Bank Stadium.

Marcus Newby, Kieran Gregory and company have dedicated themselves to reaching the ultimate goal – a state championship.

However, the Henry A. Wise High School football program is no stranger to M&T Bank Stadium, either.

The Pumas (13-0) have made the trip to Baltimore to play for a Class 4A state championship twice before and have come up empty each time. Friday’s appearance will mark Wise’s third title shot in the last four years.

In 2009, Wise suffered a 17-16 loss to Old Mill in the championship game. The following year, the Pumas were shut out by Urbana 6-0 in a defensive battle.

Quince Orchard (12-1) boasts one of the state’s stingiest defenses and features three Division I prospects in Newby (Nebraska) along with defensive linemen Andrew Ankrah (James Madison) and Gregory (Richmond).

In the state semifinal victory over Westminster, the Cougars’ defense shut down an offense that entered the game averaging 45 points per contest. The Owls only scored 19 points against Quince Orchard.

“Our defensive coordinator, Coach [John] Kelley, he designed a formation and it worked through the game,” said Newby.

“Coach Kelley put a great game plan together,” added Gregory. “Our secondary practiced all week hard and our communication was great and we put together a great performance.”

Quince Orchard senior quarterback Matt Choi outshined Westminster’s prolific senior quarterback Deryk Kern who set a new state record for touchdown passes in a single season. Kern completed 25-of-46 passes for 279 yards and two touchdowns against the Cougars.

Choi, a converted wide receiver, accounted for all three Quince Orchard touchdowns in the Cougars’ victory. He finished with 123 yards rushing on 26 carries including two scores and completed 11-of-25 passes for 169 yards and a touchdown.

Choi replaced Mikey Murtaugh midway through the regular season and has carried the Cougars on his back. He enjoyed his coming out party in the win over Westminster.

“He’s improved a lot since we lost to Seneca,” said Newby, referring to Quince Orchard’s 12-9 loss to the Screaming Eagles on Sept. 28. “He’s always in the film room watching film with Coach. He’s a fast guy, he has quick feet and he makes great decisions so he’s got so much better these past five weeks and now it’s unbelievable.”

Not bad for a kid who was once an offensive lineman during his youth league days in the Montgomery Village Sports Association.

The talented senior has a chance to lead Quince Orchard to a state title, something that was unthinkable when the season began.

“No way,” said Choi, when asked if he could have imagined starting under center in a state title game. “I thought I would be catching passes from Mikey but sometimes the team goes through adversity so you have to go through it.”

Sometimes even the wildest dreams are capable of becoming a reality. Just ask Matt Choi.

You can contact Brandy at: blssports@hotmail.com

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