On a day when penalties cost Wilde Lake more yards than star running back Raphael Wall gained, the Wildecats' defense stepped to the forefront, as Wilde Lake held off visiting Douglass, 14-12, In a state Class 2A semifinal yesterday.
The victory advances the Wildecats (12-0) to the state championship game against Damascus on Friday at South Carroll at 7:30 p.m. It will be Wilde Lake's first trip to the state final since 1985, when the Wildecats won a state title.
But the Wildecats came close to not making the final for a rematch with Damascus, which ousted the Wildecats in the semifinals last year. An error-filled effort contributed to the Wlldecats' loss last year, put this year, the Wildecats overcame a total of eight penalties for 65 yards to win.
And the Wildecats did it without an outstanding effort from Wall, whose line gave him little running room.
Wall, who had run for 1,691 yards and 28 touchdowns through 11 games, was held to 42 yards on 15 carries.
"They were keying on me," said Wall. "They played a heck of a defense. But our defense is the key to our success. If our defense wasn't that great, we couldn't be here."
The smaller Douglass defense used its quickness to penetrate and trip up Wall in the backfield several times and also kept the speedy back from getting outside with its relentless pursuit.
But Douglass (10-2) of Prince George's County also fell victim to costly errors - eight penalties for 85 yards and three fumbles.
The most costly error for Douglass came after the Eagles had scored with 27 seconds left on quarterback Erick Douglas' 1-yard run to cut the Wildecats' lead to 14-12. Douglas took a punch at a Wilde Lake player while coming out of the pile after the touchdown, and the Eagles were penalized 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct. The penalty was assesed on the conversion attempt.
Instead of a conversion try from the 3, the Eagles had to try to score from the 18. The Eagles tried a sweep to the right, the same play that set up the touchdown, but Wilde Lake s Brent Guyton dragged down Dave Fant from behind for a 2-yard loss.
"That was a big break for us because they were going for the two-point play, and they had an offense that could do it," said safety Rick Rowe, who gathered in the ensuing onside kick to wrap up the contest. "I think that was the turning point."
Rowe helped lead a Wilde Lake defense that allowed Douglass 240 yards total offense, but limited the Eagles to scores on only their first and last possessions of the game.
In fact, after Douglass marched 62 yards in 15 plays on the opening series to take a 6-0 lead, it did not look promising for the Wilde Lake defense.
"That was the first time we had been behind (this season) and only the second time anybody had scored on us on a running play," said Rowe. "I was shocked. We had to keep our composure and calm down."
The Wildecats defense did settle down and held the Eagles to a total of 8 yards on their next three series in the first half before allowing them 56 (41 came on one desperation pass) on the final series of the half.
Wilde Lake led at the half, 7-6, after quarterback Phil White capped a short 37-yard, five-play drive with a 4-yard touchdown run with 2 minutes, 16 seconds left in the half, and Dave Lubitz added the PAT. It seemed only fitting on a day when the Wildecats were so error-prone that the touchdown was scored on a busted play.
White was supposed to hand off to Wall, but fullback Keith Gonsouland moved before the ball was snapped, and he wisely stepped to his right as if in motion. Most of the Douglass and Wilde Lake players anticipated a penalty flag, but White quickly got the ball from center and darted around right tackle while most of the players reacted too late.
"Douglass thought it was a busted play," said White. "The whistle didn't blow, so I just ran it in.''
In the second half, Douglass helped the Wildecats defense. After Wilde Lake limited Douglass to 8 yards on its first series of the half, Douglass ended its next two series with fumbles.
The Wildecats' final score was set up when Douglass coach John Latzo gambled and tried a fake punt on a fourth-and-14 from his 22. Douglas went back to punt and gained just 2 yards on the try.
The Wildecats got to the 1, thanks mostly to a 19-yard run by White, setting up a 1-yard touchdown dive for Wall with 5:28 left.
"This was our toughest battle all year and we probably will see another one next week," said DuVall. "Actually this is a blessing for us. Truthfully, this is the first real tough one we've had to play. The kids learned a lot. They got to see a good football team. It will be a real plus for us."