GERMANTOWN – Like the mad scientist in the lab plotting to dominate the world, Head Coach Mike Neubeiser saw the Northwest High School football team’s 9-3 record the previous season and started plotting its rise to another state title.
The honor of lifting up the plaque at the end of the gauntlet against some of the state’s finest football teams is one that has eluded Northwest since their consecutive 4A championships in 2013 and 2014, after which the Dr. Henry A. Wise Pumas won it three times straight and the Quince Orchard Cougars followed up with their win last year.
But last year’s squad saw a seasoned veteran-filled roster take the field. This year, after the departure of 12 seniors, Neubeiser seeks to craft his inexperienced squad into contenders.
“Not a lot of returning starters, a pretty inexperienced team, to be honest, a lot of question marks,” said Neubeiser.
Senior left tackle Patrick Diomi sees the situation more optimistically: the team may have only four returning starters, but the potential supplies the confidence a team like Northwest needs.
“I see that as a strength. We still have some veterans. I feel like everyone is just confident. We’re not really worried, but we’re taking everything one step at a time,” said Diomi.
With a 9-3 record last year, Northwest remained a county powerhouse instead of fading into ignominy. Northwest pulled off at least nine wins in three of the four years since their last state title: their lowest record was 7-4 in 2016. In 2018, they lost to only two teams, Good Counsel and Quince Orchard.
The games against Quince Orchard stung more than usual; not only because of the rivalry the two teams have but because of how it went down last year. During both games in which the two teams met, Quince Orchard beat Northwest by a landslide: 41-6 in the regular season and a shutout 35-0 win in the regional final. The team found a way to overcome their rivals, but could not implement it.
“The biggest thing is that in order to beat them is to slow their running game down. That’s a big task. That’s the only way you have a chance is to slow their running game down. Really, it all starts with that; you just have to slow their running game down, try to get them to punt,” said Neubeiser.
This struck a nerve for Neubeiser, who realized that to beat their nemesis something had to change. It started with the coaching staff: former Damascus defensive coach Bucky Clipper and former Redskins Pro-Bowler left tackle Chris Samuels came in to refresh the defense and offense respectively. Neubeiser noted that the offense “will look a lot different than what it looked like in the past.”
This new play scheme has given the players a challenge, forcing them to adapt to change in a preseason.
“Teams are not going to know what to expect,” said Diomi.
Diomi, a four-year varsity veteran, had a rough time adapting to the new plays but said that with practice, he was able to get the hang of them. Diomi describes the new playbook as almost a college-style one, but still adaptable to the high school game.
The strategy going forward has been touted as radically different, a plan that will emphasize the offense line and provide more flexibility in the passing game, according to Neubeiser.
The West Coast offense that will be implemented will shift the importance of the passing game above the running game, putting their starting quarterback, junior Jordan Morse, as the focal point of Northwest’s successes and failures.
Morse aims to spread his targets around and try to get everyone equally, but if there is one target he will be looking out for, it is junior wide receiver Kaden Prather. Prather transferred from DeMatha Catholic High School along with senior defensive end Dominique Perry, where both were on the Stags squad that lost a tragic 46-43 final against Gonzaga last year in the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference Championship game on a Hail Mary pass.
Now facing Montgomery County Public Schools, they will have to go up against the likes of Paint Branch and Quince Orchard. Northwest has not beaten the latter, which is coming off a state championship win, since 2015. Northwest has lost in each of their five matchups against Quince Orchard since, including two consecutive regional finals losses.
“We’re coming back for vengeance,” said Morse.
Northwest plays their first game against Walt Whitman at home on Sept. 6.