ANNAPOLIS – A David and Goliath matchup unfolded during the 2A high school football state championship on Dec. 2.
Damascus entered the game as the reigning two-time champions and had not lost a game since 2014. Gwynn Park, on the other hand, had not played for the title since 2005 (3A) when Head Coach Danny Hayes capped off an undefeated season by taking down Westminster, 20-14, in a two-overtime thriller.
Despite outscoring its opponents 67-11 in the postseason, Gwynn Park did not have enough firepower and fell to the Swarmin’ Hornets, 31-7, as Damascus completed its three-peat.
“They are an excellent team, and we knew that we couldn’t make any mistakes against them” Hayes said. “We pretty much stopped ourselves.”
Gwynn Park deferred the opening kickoff and gave Damascus the first crack. The Hornets took little time to draw first blood as John Allan-Furgeson led his troops on a six-play, 80-yard drive. It was capped off by a 10-yard touchdown run by T.D. Ayo-Durojaiye. Ayo-Durojaiye made big plays all game and finished with 120 yards.
However, it took just one play for the Yellowjackets to strike back. Gwynn Park senior running back Ryan Clemons took an extended handoff from Kamari Brown, bounced to the right sideline, and left defenders in his wake as he raced 80 yards for a touchdown.
“It was a huge lift,” Hayes said about Clemons’ touchdown to combat Damascus’ 80-yard drive. “We saw some things that they did on defense. Once Clemons gets in front of people he is gone.”
With the game tied at seven, Damascus retook the lead after sophomore kicker Junior Baires hit a 20-yard field goal in the second quarter.
Damascus forced a three-and-out on Gwynn Park’s ensuing possession, and the Hornets took advantage of their opportunity to score before the end of the first half. Allan-Furgeson led a three-play, 47-yard drive that included a 33-yard pass to Michael Rice, and then called his own number on a 1-yard touchdown run to go up 17-7.
Brown had a rough outing against the Damascus defense and had little time to throw, which forced him into some bad decisions. Brown finished 15-of-29 for 142 yards and four interceptions.
Despite Clemons’ 80-yard touchdown early on, the senior accounted for just five yards the rest of the way. Gwynn Park senior wide receiver Keivon Brooks was one of Brown’s favorite targets, as he hauled in seven receptions for 76 yards.
“We came out, we played our ballgame, but it just wasn't a game where we could make mistakes,” Clemons said. “There is no tomorrow. This is the state championship game. We came out playing (Gwynn Park) ball, and we should have come out as the better team tonight.”
Gwynn Park had trouble sustaining drives in the second half. The Yellowjackets moved the ball 50 yards on their opening drive, but were eventually forced to punt.
On Gwynn Park’s next possession, Brown threw one of his three second-half interceptions to set up the Hornets in prime position at the Yellowjackets’ 12-yard line. It took Damascus three plays to find the endzone as Gage Dickens punched it in for a 2-yard touchdown.
It was all but over for Gwynn Park as Damascus’ stingy defense did not allow another point. The Hornets then added to the score as Dickens tallied the final touchdown with only 1:54 remaining.
“(Damascus) was playing physical, and we were playing physical, so we were fighting fire with fire,” Gwynn Park senior Dash Grant said. “They came out to be the better team.”
Gwynn Park finishes its season with only one regular-season loss and had a season to remember. While Brown will return for his senior year, the Yellowjackets will have to rebuild after losing Clemons, Brooks, Terrell Lindsey and Kibwe Galloway. There were only seven underclassmen on this year's squad.
“It won’t be who is coming back, it will be how we come back,” Hayes said. “We have a great JV team, and every year we will come back the same way. It is what you do when the other side is sleeping. We will work, and we will get back here.”