Potomac As the Churchill Bulldogs entered their home stadium on Oct. 26, there was a mix of emotions for the team’s older players. For the Bulldogs’ 21 seniors, this would be their last regular season home game in a Churchill uniform.
The players took the field against their rival, the Wootton Patriots, with hundreds of fans for both teams lining each side of Danver Stadium. According to senior wide receiver Dominique Williams, this was the perfect atmosphere to play his final regular season game.
“It is one of the greatest feelings in my life,” Williams said. “To end a career at home like that is awesome. A supportive crowd just keeps us going and they give us more reason to work harder.”
In the most recent chapter of the Churchill-Wootton rivalry, Friday’s game added another layer to the usual suspects in this backyard affair. At stake this time around was not simply bragging rights over a huge rival, but heavy playoff implications. If the Bulldogs defeated the Patriots, they would clinch a playoff spot and win the Montgomery 4A South Conference.
Leading up to the game was the kind of trash talk and playful insults that players expect from one of the biggest rivalries in Montgomery County. According to Williams, the talk between teams only made the Bulldogs more motivated to win.
“We approached it like they hit our mommas in the face,” Williams said. “There was a lot of trash talk and they were saying how they were going to pass all over us. So beating them the way we did was our trash talk.”
“The way we did” that Williams referred to was a 24-14 victory over the Patriots that left no other questions about which school ran the South Conference. Senior quarterback Jonathan Lee and junior running back Malik Harris ran for two and one touchdowns respectively, and the Patriots’ offense never managed to catch up despite ample opportunities.
According to Lee, who added more than 100 passing yards to his two touchdowns, the development of both his running and passing games has improved, but still needs to be developed further.
“My running skills have improved in that I can read the triple option better and allow for us to get bigger plays when we run those plays,” Lee said. “My passing has improved a bit but not as much because sometimes I still struggle to make the right reads.”
Harris, who has led the Bulldogs in rushing for all but three games this season, continued to dominate the running game. The junior had more than 100 rushing yards for the third time this season, and gave the Bulldogs a lead over the Patriots that they wouldn’t relinquish with his first quarter touchdown to make it 14-7.
According to Harris, the team’s offensive line had a huge effect on his stat line with their ability to open holes and create spaces for the back.
“[The offensive line] caused me to have such a big impact on the game,” Harris said. “Without them blocking I wouldn't have had any impact. Our offensive line’s effectiveness caused Wootton’s run defense to become ineffective [against me].”
Though his blockers may have helped Harris score, Lee also believes that Harris’ growth and maturity as a player have caused him to be an offensive force.
“Malik has matured in a way that when he runs, he tries to find the hole and is looking to score every time he carries the ball,” Lee said. “He was a big part of the Wootton game because he kept the ball moving and kept the clock going.”
Wootton did have many opportunities to score, and a moment of confusion in the first quarter led to an early Wootton touchdown that seemed to turn the game around. Wootton quarterback Sam Ellis threw a short pass to tight end Miles Green, who then appeared to be tackled by the Churchill defense. Despite an official apparently blowing his whistle, the play continued and Green ran for the 81-yard touchdown.
According to Williams, while the player “was not down on the play,” Churchill players were upset because “the referee blew the whistle so all of us stopped, and Miles Green kept running.”
Despite this setback, Churchill’s defense only allowed one more score during the game on a short run by Wootton wide receiver Joe Kelly.
According to Williams, the team is happy with the win, and is ready to have a deep run in the playoffs.
“[The win] feels great, and it’s the first time Churchill has made it to playoffs two consecutive years since the [former head coach] Fred Shepherd days,” Williams said. “Our next goal as a team is to win the region and make to the state semifinals.”
According to Lee, the game was proof to those that had lost faith in Churchill that the team can still be a dominant force in Montgomery County.
“I feel very excited about this accomplishment because people around the county doubted that we could make the playoffs again since we lost a lot of players from last year,” Lee said. “We just went out and proved that we can do anything. Our next goal is Sherwood, [the team’s last regular season game], because with that win we'll get another home game in the playoffs, then after that it's to make states.”
As the team prepares for Sherwood and the upcoming playoffs, there is a sense of importance for Churchill’s seniors, as they know that each game could be their last. According to Lee, no matter when the Bulldogs’ season comes to a close, he’s happy that he had the chance to play for Churchill.
“Playing for Churchill these past four years has been amazing,” Lee said. “There isn't another program that I'd rather play with.”
Wootton now has a record of 4-5 and will finish its regular season against Gaithersburg next week.