It was a cold October Saturday. The rains poured down and Quince Orchard's perfect 4-0 record was in jeopardy as the Cougars trailed rival Seneca Valley by four points with just over three minutes to play. With mud clinging to his jersey and pads, Mark Green lined up in the back field, eyeing the goal line that was 21 yards away.
The QO running back took the hand-off, bounced to the left side of the line, shed a few tackles and plunged into the end zone for the game-winning score.
Standing behind the same end zone was a group of former players and coaches, who 20 seasons earlier had guided Quince Orchard to its first state championship in 1991. They had gathered that afternoon to celebrate the 20th anniversary of that title and watched as Green helped knock off the only other unbeaten team in the county.
It was the last undefeated opponent the Cougars have had to face this season. Until tonight. Now, 20 years after the school captured its first crown, this year's group of Cougars look to etch their place in history and add their names to a short list of high school football players who can call themselves the Maryland 4A state champions.
"What better way to honor that team than to join them as champions," Quince Orchard coach Dave Mencarini said.
For Green and his fellow senior teammates, it would be the culmination of a four-year journey that began their freshman year -- in the fall of 2008 -- one season after Mencarini and the 2007 Cougars finished 14-0 and captured the school's second state title.
"Ever since I got to QO my freshman year, we all had the goal to get to this point," said Green, who enters Friday's game with 1,853 yards rushing and 25 touchdowns. "If we can replicate what that 2007 team did, it would mean so much. I'm just thankful to be in a position where we can try to make that happen."
Standing in the Cougars' way is the Old Mill Patriots and the state's leading rusher, Rob Chesson. Like QO, Old Mill enters the state title game at M&T Bank Stadium a perfect 13-0. And Mencarini knows that the team's toughest test of the season has been saved for last.
"I don't think you ever stop a guy like that," Mencarini said of Chesson, who has 2,528 yards and 49 TDs on the year, including seven last week in the state semifinals. "He's unbelievable. He's a great player and he's gotten a lot of deserved recognition. But they've got some other guys that I think are also really good. The key to containing that offense will come down to tackling. We have to tackle well and not give up extra yardage."
While containing Chesson will clearly be a big part of Quince Orchard's ability to win the game, Mencarini said he has faith in his players and he has been saying all season that he thought this team had a chance to do something special and possibly repeat what the 2007 team did.
But they've never let that get in their head, Mencarini said, adding that the character and make-up of these players has made this the most enjoyable season in his coaching career.
It's their focus, Mencarini said, that has helped get them to this point in the season. The eighth-year coach said that his team has approached practice this week the same as it has all season, and Mencarini has focused much of the week on minimizing the distractions.
Mencarini admitted that was a difficult thing to do, but credited his team's work ethic and effort at practice this week, adding that the enthusiasm and energy was positive.
While it's been business as usual for the players this week, Mencarini is approaching this game much differently than he did the first time around. Having been through this once before, he said he's more prepared for some of the logistical elements of the game and is also a little more relaxed.
"I can actually enjoy this now. The first time I was just so overwhelmed with everything I never took the time to appreciate the fact that we were playing in the state championship," Mencarini. "This time around I'm just able to enjoy it and focus a lot more on the football part of it."
Still, Mencarini doesn't want to settle for simply playing in the championship. He wants to win it.
"We're not just going there to enjoy a nice big stadium. We want to go there to win. It's still a football game," said Mencarini, who now has a career record of 85-13 in eight seasons as QO's coach. "We've got our work cut out for us though because they are a really good football team."
While Mencarini said he has not given much thought to what this win would mean for him personally, a win on Friday would put Mencarini in rare company as one of just a handful of coaches to win two Maryland 4A titles – a list that includes Al Thomas, Bob Milloy, John Harvill, Fred Shepherd, and Terry Changuris.
For complete pre-game analysis and coverage, view the two-part Q&A series featuring Old Mill reporter and Severn Patch editor Jonathan Moynihan and North Potomac-Darnestown Patch contributor Matt Papuchis.