BURTONSVILLE – Four undefeated varsity football teams remain in Montgomery County as the month of September draws to a close.
For the Montgomery Blair Blazers, 5-0 is welcome uncharted territory.
The Blazers held strong against a late Paint Branch surge on a misty Friday night to beat the host Panthers 28-21 and extend their unprecedented winning streak.
Blair senior running back Eric Zokouri finished the game with 122 yards and two touchdowns, both in the first half. Zokouri also made noise on defense when he sacked Paint Branch senior quarterback JD Guerrero to end the Panthers’ second possession of the evening.
“I’m proud of my team. We’ve come a long way,” Zokouri said. “This is my first time in my four years at Blair that we’ve gone 5-0.”
The Blazers jumped out to an early lead when Zokouri found the end zone in the first few minutes of the game.
The senior grabbed quarterback Desmond Colby’s handoff and burst his way through the middle of the Panthers’ defense for the two-yard score.
Blair sophomore kicker Ricky Morri added the exclamation point when his extra point attempt sailed right through the uprights.
Zokouri later broke away for a 52-yard run. However, Panthers junior defensive lineman Jordon Foreman denied Blair the end zone when he sacked Colby for a 10-yard loss.
The Blazers wouldn’t be denied for long.
The Panthers handed Blair excellent field position when they failed to convert on fourth-and-four at their own 25-yard-line.
Zokouri turned on the jets and raced 12 yards for his second touchdown of the game.
“I just take what my coaches give me and do what they tell me to do,” he said.
The Panthers defense sacked Colby four times in the first half. Paint Branch still hadn’t scored when both teams exited the field to prepare for the second half.
It appeared as though Paint Branch was two quarters away from suffering a shutout loss on their home turf just two weeks after blanking Gaithersburg.
Guerrero, however, had other plans.
The Panthers converted a fourth-and-five on the 49 yard line to keep the drive alive. Guerrero kept the ball himself as he snuck six yards into the paint to finally put Paint Branch on the board.
Senior kicker Bryant Hernandez made the first of his three extra point attempts of the night.
Before the Blazers could blink, Guerrero was in the end zone a second time just sixty seconds later.
The senior scanned the field for an open receiver before holding onto the ball and showing off his mobility as he ran nine yards for six points.
Hernandez’s extra point tied the game.
Blair Head Coach Andrew Fields admitted that Paint Branch’s comeback made him nervous that his team might lose the game.
“Third quarter, I started thinking about it a little bit,” he said. “Our kids are resilient. They’re a close group and a tough bunch. They were able to turn the tables around on them.”
Colby connected with senior wide receiver Clifford Carter for a 23-yard touchdown. Carter leaped into the air and caught Colby’s pass up the middle to give Blair the lead and some breathing room.
The Panthers found themselves with a fresh set of downs deep in Blair territory on the next possession.
Junior running back Justin Hockaday fumbled the slippery, rain-drenched ball at the 22 yard line and Blair senior safety Kasim Brown recovered.
Brown took off down the field, kicking defenders off of his heels en route to a 73-yard touchdown.
The game appeared to be all but over for the Panthers.
However, there was plenty of time left for Paint Branch to try to hand Blair its first defeat of the season.
Panthers junior receiver Yasin Mohammed separated himself from the Blair defenders and made himself open in the end zone. Guerrero spiraled the ball right into Mohammed’s waiting arms for the nine yard score.
The Panthers had enough time for a touchdown.
They didn’t have enough time for a comeback and dropped to 3-2.
“We had millions of self-inflicted errors,” said Panthers Head Coach Mike Nesmith. “We had tons of penalties and that’s been typical for us, particularly on offense. We keep shooting ourselves the foot and beating ourselves. They made some plays to pull away and we just couldn’t climb back in.”
Blair will face longtime rival Springbrook (0-4) next week in Silver Spring while Paint Branch hits the road to play Einstein (3-2).