Last season, a parent created a website for the Quince Orchard High School football team and it included a blog for coach Dave Mencarini. He liked the idea and planned to update it regularly, but like many potential bloggers, he got busy and that section of the site sat stagnant.
Then, on March 7 — an inconsequential Wednesday 92 days after Quince Orchard lost to Old Mill 36-35 in the 2011 4A state championship game — Mencarini sat down at his home computer. He often uses his drive from school to reflect, and that day, he reflected on his team's last game. When he got home, he typed the following post, in its entirety:
“I am finally at a point where I feel comfortable talking about Friday, December 2nd, 2011. It's taken a while to get to this point. Everyone deals with things differently. My competitiveness is my biggest strength and weakness. I hate losing more than I like winning. It is what gets me out of bed some days. Needless to say I have replayed the state championship game in my head dozens of times without ever watching the game on film fully. I've seen bits and pieces but I can't bring myself to watch the whole thing yet. Here's what I've learned………….THE BEST TEAM DOESN'T ALWAYS WIN. Old Mill will forever be known as the 2011 Maryland 4A State Champion. They won, we lost. I'm a sore loser and God help the teams that line up against us in 2012.”
It remains the blog's first and only entry.
Really, the blog needs nothing more. The post reveals the personality of a program that has fully adopted the attitude of Mencarini, whose Twitter biography reads: “Head Football Coach at Quince Orchard HS in Gaithersburg, MD. Hate losing more than I like winning.”
“We had an unbelievable season, going 13 and 1, and you can say, 'Hey, we're the second-best team in 4A,'” Mencarini said of his 2011 squad. “But that's not good enough for us, for me and that's not good enough for our program. I don't do what I do to be the second best.”
After its heartbreaking loss last season, Quince Orchard returns to the 4A state title game, where it will have another chance to prove its not second best. This time, Quince Orchard (12-1) will face Henry A. Wise High School (13-0) at 7:30 p.m. Friday at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.
Both teams feature outstanding defenses — Quince Orchard has allowed 6.6 points per game, and Wise has allowed 3.3. Wise coach DaLawn Parrish said both teams play “real football, the way it's supposed to be played,” an assessment Mencarini strongly agreed with.
But beyond their on-field similarities, both teams reached the title game with supreme focus and determination.
For Quince Orchard, that meant embracing its loss to Old Mill. That game ended on Old Mill's two-point conversion in overtime after Quince Orchard relinquished a 21-0 lead.
When Quince Orchard held its first offseason meeting in late January, a few juniors brought their runner-up trophies.
“At the end, one of the kids stood up and he [had] the small, pathetic runner-up trophy in his hand, and he said, 'This will never happen again,'” Mencarini said.
One senior donated his trophy to be displayed in the locker room all season and another's sits in the weight room — two visual reminders of Quince Orchard's goals. Mencarini said he wasn't certain whose trophies they were, but he's positive the players don't miss them.
“There's a lot of kids that probably don't know where theirs is,” Mencarini said.
Some do, though. Defensive end Kieran Gregory said his is “on my dresser under a pile of papers and some other stuff. I haven't looked at it since last December.”
Even if the team wanted to ignore and move past the loss, it would have been difficult. The school's entire senior class made its motto “unfinished business,” opposing fans have chanted “Old Mill” at the team and the media often has referenced the game.
“Any article about our team this year, somewhere in those articles, there's always a line: 'a gut-wrenching loss to Old Mill in the state championship,'” Mencarini said. “And that's forever going to be synonymous until Friday night and depending how Friday night goes, something else could be written along with that.”
Last week, the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association held a luncheon for coaches whose teams were still were playing. They were given a tour of M&T Bank Stadium, including the room the championship-game winner's news conference and the room the championship-game loser's news conference are held.
When Mencarini reached the latter, Wise's coach, whose team lost the 2009 and 2010 title games, stood in the doorway. Parrish smiled and said, “I'm not going in there. I've been in there twice.”
Mencarini walk in, just to see whether the same sick feeling returned. It did.
But the exercise probably wasn't really necessary. In many ways the sick feeling never has completely left the program and that's why Mencarini and Gregory believe the Old Mill loss made their team so much better this season.
“We didn't go around saying it, but in our program, within our group and within our team, we all knew what our goal was,” Gregory said. “And we were confident that we were going to get back.
“After losing that game, we came into this season a lot more hungry than I think we did last year. The senior leadership and the experienced juniors knew what it felt like. The hunger during spring workouts, summer workouts and practice — it's just incredible how hungry we are to get back, how hungry we are to accomplish our goal.”