DAMASCUS — The Damascus Swarmin’ Hornets once again proved themselves among the most dominant football teams in Maryland as they advanced to the 2A football championship game by defeating the visiting Glenelg Gladiators on Friday with the final score 42-7, setting up their fourth straight state championship appearance.
Friday's performance was a return to form for the Hornets' offense after last week's quarterfinal match against Walkersville turned into a defensive battle, and allowed Damascus to claim their 41st straight victory with a tried-and-true formula: run hard and run often.
The Damascus running attack – led by junior running back T.D. Ayo-Durojaiye – couldn't be contained by the Glenelg defense or slowed down by cold weather. Ayo-Durojaiye's offensive efforts were an integral part of his team's win, as he rushed for 145 yards and finished the game with three touchdowns.
While Ayo-Durojaiye put points on the board, Damascus' signature stifling defense made sure the Gladiators didn't make much offensive progress by keeping enough pressure on Glenelg junior quarterback Tyler Reiff that he struggled with fumbles, interceptions, and incompletions for most of the game.
Glenelg's running game didn't have much success against the Hornets' defense, which limited junior running back Wande Owens to only 30 yards of offensive production. Any time Owens thought he'd found a hole to dart through, the Damascus defense shut him down before he made much progress.
Even though the Gladiators managed to avoid a shutout, their lone touchdown came courtesy of a Damascus mistake.
The Hornets were already up 21-0 in the first quarter, and Glenelg needed a spark to get its offense moving.
Reiff fired a pass into the end zone, and Damascus sophomore defensive back Preston Murray emerged with the interception. However, a roughing-the-passer penalty on the Hornets negated the interception and set the Gladiators up with a first-and-goal.
Receiver Luke McCullough's nine-yard score a few seconds later seemed to breathe new life into the Gladiators.
However, that extra rush of adrenaline became short-lived as the Hornets answered back a few minutes later with Ayo-Durojaiye's second touchdown.
While the Hornets had no problem putting points on the board, the first half also contained plenty of penalties for the Green-and-Gold. Damascus was penalized nine times, including a holding call right before halftime that erased a touchdown by senior receiver Collin Gallagher.
Glenelg's offensive woes continued into the second half as the Gladiators struggled to move the ball after multiple three-and-outs.
Meanwhile, Ayo-Durojaiye and senior running back Jevani Christian combined for two second-half scores that resulted in a running game clock. Despite being continually haunted by penalties and having a second touchdown negated due to a holding call, the Hornets dominated the time of possession.
The Hornets now find themselves in a position to do what no other Damascus team has done before: win three state championships in a row.
"We don't expect anything less than an appearance in the state championship, and we don't expect anything more than a win," said Ayo-Durojaiye. "We're not done. Every year we don't come in only expecting to win our divisional championship or our regional championship. We come in wanting to win a state championship, and we're one step closer to that goal."
Glenelg head coach Butch Schaffer acknowledged that an appearance in the state semifinals against a team like Damascus is a good experience for his players.
"They got to play on the biggest stage in front of probably the best community that supports football," he said. "They get to see how high school football how truly should be in the state of Maryland."
Damascus head coach Eric Wallich appeared focused on his team's next challenge: a date with Gwynn Park next Saturday at the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis for the 2A state championship.
"That's been our goal all season, and we felt like we had a good enough team to do it," he said. "Now we're finally here, and hopefully we do."