“It’s supposed to hurt a little,” he said. “Because you all gave your whole heart for it today.”
The Panthers (11-3) weren’t expected to even make it to Annapolis, let alone play a tight game that can cause that kind of pain. Crounse, who coached Patuxent for 15 years but left in 2017, had returned for his second stint in the offseason. As the Panthers turned a promising start into continued success throughout the season, the manager spoke about the unique strength of the Lusby football community.
“It’s a special place,” Crounse said after the game with tears in his eyes. “The kids down there have a lot of character and a lot of them have to fight for everything they get in life. … But to be honest, I came back here for me as much as for her. Being here has reinvigorated my love for football and family.”
It was widely expected that Patuxent’s playoff run would hit a wall in Saturday’s Finals, where the Panthers would face the kind of team that often shatters dreams. Undefeated this season and last, the Dunbar Poets were aiming for back-to-back titles and 12th in program history.
But the Panthers came out swinging. Sophomore quarterback Evan Blouir had a 44-yard touchdown run on the third play and then found Evan Jones for a six-yard pass to cap the next drive. Before the end of the first quarter, the Panthers led by 13 points over the untouchable Poets.
“We were never scared or backed down at all,” senior linebacker Jedidiah Lancaster said. “We drove off. Dunbar was just a name for us and our goal is to surpass that name.”
Dunbar got back on track in the second quarter, scoring on a quick touchdown and coming through with a backbreaker just before halftime. Quarterback Devin Roche found Antonio Lyde with a 40-yard lever in the last game of the first half and sent the Poets into the tunnel by a point.
They held on with smothering defense in the second half as they caught four interceptions to keep Patuxent off the board. The third of those four came from Dunbar’s Anthony Campbell and was returned 87 yards for a game-winning touchdown. On the touchline, the Panthers could only watch as the junior linebacker weaved through would-be tacklers and ended their season.
“No one had us here to start with. And certainly no one gave us a chance to win that game,” Crounse said. “But my kids came out and fought. I couldn’t be prouder of a group of young men and I couldn’t be prouder to be a part of Patuxent High School again.”