By Eva Paspalis
CLARKSBURG — Paint Branch quarterback Norman Douglas was covered in mud and drenched with rain, his once-white uniform now a dingy brown as a slow smile spread across his face. Douglas’s Panthers strode into Clarksburg’s Coyote Canyon Friday and emphatically
clinched a 47-13 victory that Douglas referred to as a “mud bowl.”
What had started as a slight drizzle at kickoff, morphed into a heavy, driving rain and swirling wind in the third quarter, which transformed the field into a swamp in a matter of minutes.
Despite the slop on the field and the ankle-deep puddles that had formed on the sidelines, both teams knew what was at stake and played through the mess. Paint Branch (9-1) had entered the game with a playoff berth already guaranteed; a win would grant them home-field advantage. The Coyotes (6-4) needed to close out their season with a win on Senior Night, as well as a Richard Montgomery loss, to make it into the playoffs at all.
Unfortunately for Clarksburg, not only did Richard Montgomery narrowly defeat Montgomery Blair, but the Coyote offense stalled on several drives, and the defense couldn’t contain the Panthers.
Even though Paint Branch has relied heavily on its running game throughout the season, Friday’s game displayed the Panthers’ several passing threats as well. Wide receiver Ishmael Agbodzah ran a deep post, which translated to two early touchdowns, one for 29 yards and one for 56 yards. Agbodzah was wide open on both occasions and caught Douglas’s pass in stride before the Clarksburg defense could catch up to him. Douglas also connected with senior receiver Max Davis late in the fourth quarter as Davis gained separation on his defender and ran wide open into the end zone.
While the passing game picked up speed even under adverse conditions, running back Justin Page served as Paint Branch’s bread and butter. The senior rumbled for three touchdowns, two of them in the second half, when the rain, wind and field conditions were at their worst. Page appeared unfazed as he churned his legs, water flying up at every step, first for a 43-yard score and then for a 64-yard dash that set a running clock in motion.
Meanwhile, Clarksburg quarterback Joey Perkins, also apparently unbothered by the puddles on the field, darted through holes in the Paint Branch defense and moved the chains on several occasions. Perkins capped off a long run into the red zone with a two-yard touchdown on second-and-goal that ensured the Coyotes wouldn’t get shut out on what ended up being their final game of the season.
Clarksburg then capitalized on a pass interference penalty, called on the Panthers, and Perkins dropped the ball right into the hands of running back Ben Spiess for a 10-yard score. However,, a blocked extra-point attempt kept the Coyotes at 13 points.
After the game, the Panthers celebrated their victory by sliding in the mud. Several Coyotes joined in and slid into the large puddles on the sidelines.
“That was a good team out there, and I give them a lot of respect,” said Douglas. “It was more fun out there than tough. All the boys enjoyed it. Clarksburg was really friendly.”
First-year Clarksburg head coach Bob Plante remained positive and optimistic about his team despite being eliminated from playoff contention. Most of the Clarksburg players are underclassmen and will be returning to the team next year.
“The bottom line is we had a great season and we had a winning season,” said Plante. “We were in the playoff hunt until the last game, and that was a goal that we had. The program is turning around, the culture is changing, and the kids are getting better. We’re looking for a great year next year, and we wish our seniors the best.”
With the number one-seeded Panthers now looking toward upcoming postseason challenges, Douglas acknowledges that his team still has something to prove to its detractors.
“A lot of teams slept on us this year, so winning this game today gave us a confidence boost. Everybody has to come to us now instead of us having to go away,” said Douglas. “We’re looking forward to whoever comes our way, to [beat them.] A lot of people think that we’re not going to take it this year. But I feel in my heart, the way that we keep practicing hard, we deserve it. So if we keep playing the way we’ve been playing, I think we’re going to take it.”