DAMASCUS — All week long, Damascus and John Allan Furgeson let the doubt and animosity simmer. About how the 39-game winning streak was going to come to an abrupt end Friday night. About how the general public framed them as underdogs on their own turf — where they haven’t lost in four years. About how the haters pestered them for not beating teams convincingly enough. And about how he wasn’t capable of taking matters into his own hands under center.
Though the talk and Twitter jabs really began months ago, the simmer boiled into a state of extreme agitation as the week progressed, and by the time Friday night arrived against undefeated Walkersville in a heavyweight slugfest for the 2A West region title, Furgeson and company were on the brink of outrage.
“It hits you hard, deep when you get called the underdogs,” Damascus senior lineman Jordan Funk said profoundly, pounding his fist across his heart. “In practice, we were going balls to the wall.”
Hornets’ players and coaches plastered bare walls in the locker room with tweets and posts from local football sites that toned with disrespect. “We had that sitting in the back our heads as we hung up posters and people calling us underdogs,” Funk added. “What people were saying — how we were going to lose, how we’re not better than them — that just pushed us more and more to get better.”
Furgeson even used one of those posts — my post, actually — as his screensaver for the week. John Allan gets the job done, but Walkersville quarterback Billy Gant will open things up with his experience and supposed better arm and lead the Lions to victory, I wrote. It backfired resoundingly. A minute into the fourth quarter, Furgeson ripped off the game’s longest run of 67 yards to plate the only touchdown of the night in Damascus’s 7-3 triumph pitting a clash of the champions. “It fueled us,” said Furgeson, who finished with 104 total yards (63 rushing, 41 passing). “That was all over our locker rooms and everything.”
“Thank you for that,” Furgeson told me with sincerity. An estimated 6,000-plus spectators packed The Nest in a showdown many anticipated since the realignment in January, the largest showing many could recall since the epic Seneca Valley-Urbana battle in 2001. Both grandstands were filled well before an hour until kickoff. The word on the street claimed there wasn’t a parking space to be had within a mile. No. 3 Damascus, last year’s 3A state title winners, have now won 40 games in a row. No. 4 Walkersville entered with a 25-game win-streak of its own, and last lost in the 2015 2A title game to Patuxent.
After the game, Damascus coach Eric Wallich termed Walkersville as “one of the best teams I’ve played against, coached against.”
“They’re incredible,” Wallich said. “Top to bottom, their line, their backs. But, you know, we just found a way.”
The first half featured seven punts, six first downs, three turnovers and zero points. Damascus also missed a makeable field goal from 37 yards out and coughed it up twice in plus territory – one inside the five-yard line when a direct snap to running back Gage Dickens went awry and sailed over his head. Walkersville managed 51 total yards of offense on 22 plays. And while Damascus mustered 46 yards on 22 plays, Wallich thought they left 10 points out there, which felt like 35 during the defensive slugfest.
After Damascus went three-and-out on the opening possession of the second half, Walkersville drove 25 yards on six plays, which featured its longest run of the night on a Christian Policelli 14-yard gain, to set-up and ice-breaking 37-yard field goal. The drive featured the Lions’ longest run of the night on a Christian Policelli 14-yard gain. For the game, Walkersville finished with 66 yards on 32 carries. Its 1,000-yard rusher, Jacob Wetzel, struggled to find space to exploit and ended up with 46 yards on 14 rushes. Wetzel’s longest run of the night was six yards.
When Damascus had another short-lived drive suppressed by the stingy Walkersville defense, Wallich and a few assistants called Furgeson over on the sideline. “We just saw that nothing else was working,” Wallich said. “We just kept fishing and fishing and fishing.” One assistant sparked an idea no one at Damascus would’ve thought of: A draw up the shoot with Furgeson. “He said it to me like three times: It’s going to be quarterback draw … you’re going to get your shot,” Furgeson said.
On the next drive, Dickens, like he had for most the night, got stuffed at the line of scrimmage. On second-and-nine, Damascus approached the line of scrimmage with the intent for a Furgeson draw, but they didn’t align correctly due to the buzzing atmosphere. Damascus picked up four yards on the play, but a 3rd-and-6 awaited. “I think we were messed up,” Wallich said. “You can’t even believe how hard it is to hear.” Sure enough, on the very next play, the Hornets executed the draw to perfection, getting the Walkersville defense to bite left as Fergeson slipped toward the right sideline and took off for 67 yards. The gash propelled the Hornets from their own 27 to the Lions’ seven-yard line.
Going into Friday’s bout, many speculated whether Walkersville’s front, which has one player with a college offer in Ethan Parrish, could hang with Damascus’s beastly trench that employs a host of three-year starters, anchored by the top recruit in the Class of 2020, Bryan Bresee; Wake Forest commit Michael Jurgens and Army West Point commit Jordan Funk. But up until that 67-yard scamper, Damascus’s longest run of the night was eight yards. They also had 33 yards on 23 carries through three quarters.
“We couldn’t power’em up like we thought we could,” Wallich said. “So, we said let’s try to get outside a little bit.”
Two plays later, Dickens ran in the 14-yard score down the left sideline. On the play, two flags flew, but were waved off. Walkersville was perplexed. Damascus, meanwhile, buzzed with jubilation. Afterward, film of the only scoring play of the night showed that Damascus had 12 men on the field. MSA will provide a follow-up story on the incident.
Walkersville responded with a 52-yard drive inside the red zone, but Gant’s pass on fourth down got tipped into the air by Funk and landed in the hands of lineman Matthew Betterelli with 5:40 left in regulation. Damascus milked five minutes off the clock on a drained Walkersville bunch that played many players both ways. This gave the Lions one more shot with 40 seconds, backed up on their own eight-yard line. But they couldn’t make anything happen.
All season long, Damascus players run 14 hills after every practice, representing the amount of wins it takes for a state title campaign. “We knew we could get them in the second half; we were so conditioned. We run 14 hills, 14 sprints, whatever it was. We’re not done,” Furgeson said.
The win on Friday night just adds to the impressive list the Class of 2018 has already accomplished: a 40-0 record at the varsity level, two state titles and four wins against three Frederick teams. When asked about what the victory means to their legacy, Wallich said, “They still have to win the state championship. Remember when United States beat Russia? That was actually the game before the championship, and most people don’t know that. They got to come back, and they have to keep winning.”
After it was all said and done, Damascus players flooded the field in euphoric fashion. Walkersville, on the hand, walked off somberly. Legions of Maryland high school football fans had yearned for the Clash of the Champions since the announcement of the reclassification. Furgeson wanted it five years ago in the eighth grade Super Bowl. “I wanted to play them so bad my eighth grade year, and they didn’t go to states for whatever reason. We were supposed to play them, but it didn’t turn out that way.”
Every year since, the quarterback kept tabs on Walkersville, chomping at the bit for a shot to go head-to-head. On Friday night, Furgeson got he long sought for. And the stakes couldn’t have been any higher.
“Just glad we got our final opportunity to play them. It was a brawl. We knew it was going to be brawl. And it turned out exactly how I wanted it to.”