By Eva Paspalis
BURTONSVILLE — A strong, dominant defense and a ground-and-pound two-pronged running game led the 7-1 Paint Branch Panthers varsity football team to a 35-7 homecoming victory Friday against the visiting Sherwood Warriors.
With just two games left in the regular season, the Panthers relied on tried-and-true running backs Justin Page and Sam Doku, who combined for almost 200 yards and three touchdowns. Paint Branch also overcame a plethora of penalties; in fact, the Panthers were penalized 13 times for almost 100 yards.
However, despite the yellow flags flying all over the field, the Panthers defense nearly blanked the Warriors. Sherwood finally scored when wide receiver Mitchell West registered a 26-yard touchdown that stopped the running clock with three minutes left in the game.
“They’re a good football team, and we’re not quite in that category right yet,” said Warriors’ first-year head coach Tom Crowell, who returned to the Sherwood program after successful coaching careers at Springbrook, Good Counsel and St. John’s. “We have to have everything going for us. Paint Branch is better than us, and we’re trying to get to where they are. We have a very young football team.”
Sherwood running back Andrew Comeau saw his share of carries as quarterback Sean Yamada fed him the ball again and again. Unfortunately for the Warriors, the offense couldn’t gain much ground against the Panthers.
Meanwhile, the Paint Branch offense was firing on all cylinders, as multiple players made their presence felt on the field. Quarterback and homecoming king Norman Douglas ran for a 15-yard touchdown after receiver Max Davis churned down the field for a long punt return, and a facemask penalty on Sherwood tacked another 15 yards onto the run. Davis made it into the end zone himself a few possessions later, and Douglas connected with receiver Larry Hackey for a two-point conversion and a running clock designation.
Paint Branch senior defensive back Shawn Harris registered a forced fumble and six tackles, while Page, apparently not satisfied with his two-touchdown offensive performance, made tackles on the defensive side of the ball as well.
Panthers linebacker Jordan Griffin sacked Yamada, and linebacker Kennypride Toh recovered the ball to give Paint Branch the ball with seconds left on the clock. At first-and-goal on the two-yard line, however, in a show of sportsmanship and respect, Paint Branch head coach Mike Nesmith decided to have his team take a knee and let time expire instead of trying to score again.
“The game was over at that point. I’ve known Coach Crowell for many years, back when I was a very young coach and he was kind to me then,” said Nesmith. “[Defensive coordinator] Coach Goodman was my JV head coach at Seneca Valley. We’re not trying to run up the score on anybody. There was no need to try to score at that point. It was a no-brainer to take a knee.”
The Panthers are still at the top of the 4A North in Montgomery County, two games ahead of 5-3 teams Sherwood and Montgomery Blair. Next week, Paint Branch hosts the 6-2 Blake Bengals, a team that earned a blowout win of its own Friday against the Rockville Rams. The Warriors will host Springbrook before closing out the regular season against Whitman.