DAMASCUS — After a hard-fought battle, the Damascus Swarmin’ Hornets emerged victorious Friday in the 2A West regional championship game, defeating the Walkersville Lions 7-3.
Until halfway through the fourth quarter, the Swarmin’ Hornets found themselves in a situation it had rarely seen in 2017: trailing.
Facing off against Walkersville, Damascus had struggled throughout the game to find any type of offensive momentum, leaving the jam-packed home-field crowd looking for something – anything – to cheer for; That is, until quarterback John Allan Ferguson called his own number, ran right, and headed downfield unchallenged until he was finally stopped 67 yards later at the Walkersville seven-yard line.
The crowd roared. Finally, Damascus had life.
Still, the Hornets still had work to do. After taking losses on two consecutive plays, they were driven back to the Walkersville 15-yard line, when at third-and-goal, Gage Dickens took a direct snap from Allen. He ran to the left edge of the field and burst past the Lions for a touchdown, giving the Hornets a 7-3 lead, which they would preserve to become 2A West regional champions.
It was Dickens’ run that gave Damascus the win, but it was Ferguson's charge into scoring position that sparked the Hornets’ offense after lackluster play for the majority of the game and gave them the momentum to score.
“We hadn’t had a big play all game,” Ferguson said. “From my perspective, that opened up the whole game, that opened up all our other plays. Once we hit them in the mouth, we were pretty confident that we could keep hitting them in the mouth.”
While the game was scoreless for the entirety of the first half, Walkersville finally put points on the board in the third quarter when they managed to kick a field goal for a 3-0 lead.
For the most part, Friday’s game was a defensive masterclass, as the first half for both teams combine for less than 100 total yards on offense, and just four total first downs. And with both teams relying heavily on their running game against skilled defensive lines, it was a war of attrition in which Damascus would eventually prevail, as the Hornets wore down Walkersville’s offense by holding Lions’ running back Jacob Wetzel in check for the entire game.
Wetzel’s two nemeses Friday evening were a pair of Division I prospects: senior Jordan Funk, who will play for the US Military Academy at West Point next year, and sophomore Bryan Bresee, the top player of Damascus’ class of 2020.
After the defensive slugfest, Damascus head coach Eric Wallich had nothing but praise for both team’s efforts.
“They are a tremendous defense, we got a tremendous defense,” Wallich said. “It wasn't very pretty, but a tough, hard-nosed game which is exactly what I thought it was going to be.”
When asked about how his team prepared for the Walkersville rushing attack, Bresee told the Sentinel: “We wrapped up all week long.”
“Always drove our feet all week, no swinging,” he said. “We didn’t want to give them any second chances to get loose, and that’s what we did.”
Friday’s close game was an anomaly for the Hornets, who won their regular season games by an average of 37.5 points. But given the caliber of the opponent and the stakes of the game, head coach Eric Wallich said his team came prepared.
“We knew it was going to be like this,” Wallich said. “We tried to be preparing every week like it was this week, and I guess it paid off.”
Friday’s matchup between the two undefeated teams – the reigning 3A and 2A champions – has been anticipated since the Hornets were moved into 2A competition this year. Neither team had lost in more than a season, with Damascus’ winning streak stretching back 39 games – almost four seasons worth. And at 25 games, Walkersville’s streak stretched back to the 2015 season.
With Friday’s win, the Hornets advances their winning streak to 40 games and advances to next week’s 2A semifinal match, where they will have the fourth-seeded Glenelg Gladiators, the 2A South regional champions.