BETHESDA – Coming off an impressive 9-1 season in 2018, the Landon School football team of the Interstate Athletic Conference (IAC) opened the season at home against non-conference opponent Delbarton School of Morristown, New Jersey, looking for a surefire victory on Sept. 7.
However, the visiting Green Wave had other plans, as they came to the Bears’ home turf, clawed their way back from a 20-10 deficit and hung on for the 34-27 victory, dropping Landon’s record to 0-1.
“It’s disappointing,” said Bears Head Coach Paul Padalino. “Made some mistakes towards the end. A couple (of) turnovers, a big play on special teams, struggled a little bit defensively in the second half. They just wore us down.”
Last season, Delbarton finished the season with a record of 6-4. With the road win in Bethesda under their belts to start the year, Head Coach Brian Bowers said he was proud of the upset victory on the first weekend of the season.
“It’s a great program down here,” said Bowers. “The coaches are outstanding. It’s a class act through and through. We just felt like this was going to be a great game for us, Week One. I think they felt the same way.”
Landon started with the ball first, and their very first possession, a 72-yard drive, resulted in a 5-yard touchdown connection between junior quarterback Kino Lilly and senior running back Tyler Smith to put the home team up 7-0.
But the Green Wave (1-0) answered back as an interception pitted them inside the red zone, leading to junior quarterback Cole Freeman scoring on a 3-yard keeper to tie it up. On Landon’s ensuing possession, Smith turned on the jets and raced past Delbarton defenders for a 55-yard scamper into the end zone for his second touchdown of the day.
Following a Delbarton field goal, a fumble recovered by the Landon defense led to Smith’s third touchdown of the day on a 6-yard run as the home team led comfortably 20-10 at the half.
“I feel like we can get better,” said Smith. “I think we’re there. It’s just mental errors, and that’s hurting us, so that’s really why no one can defend us like that.”
But their lead did not last very long, because Freeman completed two touchdown passes to running back Gary Lewis and junior wide receiver Andrew Ross, giving Delbarton a 24-20 lead. Freeman’s three-touchdown performance against the Bears’ defense showed why he is considered a special player, in Bowers’ opinion.
“He’s an ultimate competitor. I knew coming out at halftime that he was going to make plays like he did. He’s just never out of a fight,” Bowers said.
Running back Chantz Harley did give Landon back the lead after he shed some tacklers during his run on his way for a 17-yard score.
However, Lewis once again showed off his speed on the ensuing kickoff, returning it 85 yards for his second touchdown of the game, giving the Green Wave a commanding 31-27 lead.
Down by seven late in the game, Landon had a chance to tie the game, but Lilly was sacked on fourth down, resulting in a turnover and a loss to start the year.
“It’s the first game,” said Padalino. “Doesn’t mean a whole lot. Just that we’ve got to move forward. Our primary goal is to be IAC champions, and that’s what we need to be.”
The Bears will continue their quest for their first win next on Sept. 13, when they visit Dunbar High School in Washington, D.C.
“I think we just need to pick it up in practice a little bit more,” said Harley. “We haven’t been practicing as hard as we can, but we have a lot of talent, as you can see.”