Low-scoring, defensive affairs usually tilt in favor of the Henry A. Wise Pumas. The Upper Marlboro, Md. school has made a living this season out of knockdown, drag-out, back alley-style fights, using its defense as its left hook and a power running game as its right.
But Frederick County, Md’s Urbana Hawks had a counter-punch ready on a cold night, sidestepping the Pumas’ best blow to capture the Maryland Class 4A State title in a 6-0 win at M&T Bank Stadium on Dec. 3. The Ijamsville, natives recovered from a lopsided first half to capture the school’s first title since its Class 3A championship in 2001.
After trading punts for much of the opening half, Urbana (12-0) began the third quarter by mixing things up and catching a stingy Wise defense off balance. Urbana went to the air to open the second half as starting quarterback Michael Spahr, a senior, targeted the middle of the field for a pair of big gains before he found receiver Jude Merkel for an 18-yard touchdown on what would be the first and only score of the game.
Urbana’s ensuing extra point was blocked, but the damage had already been inflicted. With Wise’s offense unable to move the ball, Urbana focused their efforts on the Wise rushing attack, forcing the Pumas to throw, a task that proved too difficult on a chilly evening.
A blown first half was the talk of the postgame for Wise (11-2), who had its chances to get on the board before halftime. Senior quarterback DeAndre Smith’s deep pass along the sideline was dropped in the end zone by a wide open Ryan Smith (no relation) three minutes before the half, crippling a perfectly-run play by Wise designed to get the senior wideout open.
“When I went for the ball in the air, the light got into my face. It was such an easy pass, I’d never drop that pass,” said a disappointed Ryan Smith. Three plays after Smith’s drop, senior fullback Kevin Staton fumbled at the Urbana three-yard line, and Urbana recovered.
After a second half full of continuous punts, Wise finally got its offense going. But late in the final quarter with 3:23 left and trailing 6-0, star running back Uriah Bethea was stopped short on fourth-and-one at the Urbana 46-yard line, giving the ball back to the Hawks. Urbana then picked up three first downs before kneeling on the ball and erupting in celebration.
Bethea, Wise’s leading rusher on the year, was held to just 88 yards on 25 carries. A junior running back with breakaway speed, Bethea had rushed for 1,454 yards and 24 touchdowns this season before being stymied by an active Urbana front.
“Their defensive backs
Stephen Riley interviews Wise running back Uriah Bethea. were just doing a good job all game. The linebackers penetrated offensive line and it just created problems for our offense,” Bethea said.
Despite the loss, Wise coach DaLawn Parrish wouldn’t let his team walk off the field disappointed. The fifth-year head coach suffered a loss in the state title game for a second straight year, but he didn’t let that stop him from giving his troops one last pep talk.
“Life goes on, they’re outstanding young men,” Parrish said he told his team. “They have a lot to look forward to as far as college and playing, taking their game to the next level and just being outstanding citizens. It doesn’t stop today, we built a program and we’re going to continue to be outstanding citizens in the school, we’re going to get good grades, we’re going to work and we’re going to build for next year.”