TOP: November 16, 2018: Douglass Eagles wide receiver Malik Pettaway (4) stiff arms Fairmont Heights Hornets middle linebacker Ricardo Jackson (6) during the MPSSAA 1A Football Playoff game between the Douglass Eagles and the Fairmont Heights Hornets at Fairmont Heights High School in Fairmont Heights, Maryland. Photo by Cory Royster/The Prince George’s Sentinel.
BOTTOM: November 16, 2018: Fairmont Heights Hornets running back Kemani Rhodes (1) is met by a host of Douglass Eagles defenders during the MPSSAA 1A Football Playoff game between the Douglass Eagles and the Fairmont Heights Hornets at Fairmont Heights High School in Fairmont Heights, Maryland. Photo by Cory Royster/The Prince George’s Sentinel.
CAPITOL HEIGHTS – Last season, Frederick Douglass High School and Fairmont Heights High School met in the regional semifinals of the playoffs.
This season, both teams took it a step further and had a thrilling Friday Night Lights showdown on Nov. 16 for the 1A south regional football championship. Douglass shutout Fairmont Heights in the regional semifinals game last year after a masterful 38-0 victory.
Although this year’s match was much more competitive, the result remained the same. Led by their staggering defense and balanced offensive game, Douglass came away with the regional championship with a hard-fought 20-12 win over Fairmont Heights.
This playoff game did not disappoint as both teams came out ready. With less than two minutes into the game, Fairmont Heights quarterback Anthony Craven had some miscommunication with his team and fumbled the ball. Defensive end senior James Izzard, who played football for the first time this year, recovered the fumble for Douglass and took it to the opponent’s one-yard line.
Following the turnover, senior running back Cameron Munoz ran in from one yard out for the first score of the game.
With playoff intensity on their mind, Douglass went for the two-point conversion early and made it an 8-0 game.
“When it came down to that play, I was just sitting there like this is amazing,” Izzard said with watery eyes. “I’ve never seen something like that coming, but when I got it, I knew that was going to be a game changer. I wanted to make a point and set a tone so that we can come out here do what we do every single game and that’s work hard and love on each other every single day.
“We come out here every single time and tell each other, ‘we got to do this, and we got to win.’ We come together as brothers, and if we don’t do that, then we fall apart, and I pray to God we don’t fall apart any day.”
That play by Izzard changed the momentum as Douglass forced two more turnovers, scored another rushing touchdown and held Fairmont Heights to zero points all in the first half. Douglass was the underdog on paper, but they played like they were right at home.
“We watched a lot of film on the dominant guys for Fairmont, and they don’t go down easy,” junior safety Geo-Di Tolbert, who had a second quarter interception, said. “We tackled good, we covered good and got out with the W.”
Although Douglass was off to a good start with a 14-0 lead at halftime, they lost their starting running back Munoz to a lower-body injury. Despite that, Douglass had other players step up to fill that void like junior running back Zavier Price. Price had 17 carries for 81 yards and a touchdown as he was a key factor to the success of the offense.
“I give credit to all of my line and my lead blockers,” Price said. “All you have to do is read them, and they do a great job, work hard. I feel like everybody played as a team. It’s not like one person doing a good job, and it’s a team effort. I feel like just have to look at the mistakes that we did offensively and defensively and get better at practice. Just keep moving and pushing and we going to go all the way.”
In the second half, Fairmont Heights came out with a different energy. In the third period, they forced a turnover and on their next offensive drive, running back Kemani Rhodes ran the ball into the end zone for their first touchdown of the game, which made it a 14-6 game early in the third quarter.
The defense stepped up as well as they made multiple big plays, such as forced fumbles, fumble recoveries and numerous stops on fourth down. Even though things started to look up, the offense could not turn the stops by the defense into points, and time was not on their side.
In the final quarter, Douglass played clock management with a 14-6 lead, and things looked bad for Fairmont Heights.
With 2:29 left in the game, Douglass got too comfortable and passed the ball. Michael Howard for Fairmont got the interception and ran it back for a touchdown, which made it a 12-14 game.
With the game on the line, Fairmont Heights went for two points but came up short. To put the icing on the cake, Price broke off a 29-yard touchdown run with 42 seconds left in the game that sent Douglass the state semifinal game.
“We knew that Fairmont Heights had been tough all year,” Douglass Head Coach Julius Pinkney said. “They were dynamic, and that was definitely a concern of ours, trying to keep them out of the end zone.
“Offensively we struggled getting points but we moved the ball all season, but I knew we had to score points tonight to beat a team like this because they are so dangerous. I believe Dunbar is our next opponent and they are built similar to Fairmont Heights, so that’s a good thing for us in preparation being a little bit familiar with them.
“At this point, we just have to get healthy. We’ve been here before with the injuries, so we are going to put our best guys out there and see how it goes.”