If there’s one attribute that all championship caliber teams possess, it’s resiliency, a trademark displayed repeatedly by Arundel Head Coach Chuck Markiewicz’s Wildcats in their 25-22 Class 4A East Region semifinal victory against previously undefeated Old Mill (10-1) on the Patriots’ home turf on November 15.
Down by scores of 7-0, 14-7 and 22-19, the young Wildcats (9-2) didn’t panic; instead they rallied behind junior quarterback Anthony Messenger, who engineered a 79-yard scoring drive to put his team ahead late in the fourth quarter, a lead they held as a 35-yard Old Mill field goal attempt to force overtime floated wide right in the waning seconds of the game.
The win gave Arundel its first-ever playoff victory against the Patriots, the same squad that took advantage of five Messenger interceptions in a Week 2 matchup to defeat the Wildcats, 24-14. With a season of experience under their belts, the Wildcats played as a cohesive unit and won the turnover battle.
“Most of the kids in our skill positions are new to varsity, so I think they’ve grown up a little bit and they’ve taken this Arundel tradition thing to heart,” Markiewicz explained. “I didn’t know if that was going to happen.”
Old Mill landed the first blow as Donovan Franklin took a handoff and bounced to the outside to gain a four-yard score early in the first quarter. Arundel answered on the next drive, as Messenger completed four short passes to different receivers, including a bullet to Don Keith, who carried an Old Mill tackler with him for two yards into the end zone. Storming right back, the Patriots added seven points with a two-yard run by Marcus Hicks and a subsequent extra point.
Successive drives by the Wildcats sputtered, leaving them with a touchdown deficit at half. Disappointed with his team’s performance, Markiewicz challenged his players to get fired up and play like it was their last game donning the green and white.
“I told them, ‘You know you guys talk so much about how you want to be together and you want to stay,” he acknowledged. “I said ‘If you do what you did that half, you don’t deserve to stay together. You can’t die with bullets in your gun. Shoot them all and let’s see how it goes.’”
Players took that message to heart, displaying passion and determination in the second half. Arundel started the third quarter with a hurry-up offense, and Messenger utilized his arm, and his legs, to carry his team through the Patriots’ defense. He hit several short passes and scrambled for another gain to set up Diondre Wallace for a 1-yard touchdown. Wallace would contribute another 1-yard scoring scamper to put his team up 19-14 with 3:26 left in the third quarter.
“They could not stop the tempo,” Keith said. “When it came time for the big boys to play, I guess we showed up.”
Arundel’s defense also came up big in the second half, shutting down quarterback Brady Ludwig and the Old Mill passing attack on the next possession. Two possessions later, Old Mill’s offense pushed the ball downfield with a string of runs before Andrew Cassard stepped in front of a Ludwig pass at the Arundel 1-yard line, tallying an interception.
But the Patriots rallied again on their next possession. On fourth-and-7 from the Arundel 16-yard line, Ludwig lobbed a pass to the left corner of the end zone, which Devin Salisbury hauled in for the go-ahead score with 4:38 remaining in the game.
Facing an end to their season, the Wildcats showed their resiliency yet again. On fourth down on Arundel’s next possession, Messenger drilled Jordan Stewart with a 10-yard pass to keep the chains moving, one of eight passes the Wildcats’ quarterback completed on the drive. A three-yard run on fourth-and-1 brought the ball to the Old Mill 26-yard line, and that’s when Arundel sent the crowd into an uproar. With 1:19 left in the fourth quarter, Messenger sent a perfect strike over an Old Mill defender on the right sideline and into the outstretched hands of Keith, who caught the pass over his left shoulder.
“That play was a fake screen and my quarterback said, ‘I’m going to throw it up to you, I’m going to throw it on a dime,’” Keith said after the game. “He threw it up to me and I made a play for my brothers.”
On the ensuing possession, Old Mill marched down the field, and with eight seconds left had a chance to tie the game, but the field goal attempt was off the mark.
“[The game] could have gone the other way, but it all came down to us trusting each other and playing as a team,” Wallace said with a smile. “I didn’t know we never beat Old Mill in the playoffs, and I have a lot of friends on that team, but it feels good.”
The Wildcats will try to keep their run going against Meade during the Class 4A East Region final on Friday, November 22 at 7:00pm at Meade High School. In their previous meeting, Arundel used a game-ending, fourth-down stand to outlast the Mustangs 24-17 in overtime during the last week of the regular season, catapulting them into the playoffs.