WHEATON – When players from Montgomery Blair High School walked off the football field and toward the sidelines at Wheaton High School on Sept. 20, a special chant directed at the Blazers emanated from the student section.
It is a chant that every team wants to hear after Week Three, but there are only five teams left in Montgomery County that have earned the right to hear it.
“Three-and-oh! Three-and-oh! Three-and-oh!”
The Blazers are still undefeated, but the Knights gave Blair all it could handle. In the end, the third quarter go-ahead touchdown by Blair junior running back Brian Williams proved to be the difference-maker, which handed Wheaton its second loss, 15-12.
“I tried my best for my team. I do it for my brothers,” said Williams of his four-yard touchdown. “I knew I had to get in there and change the scoreboard. I knew all we needed was one touchdown just to get in the lead, so I did what I had to do to get in the end zone.”
The game provided a stage for a running back battle as Wheaton’s Emari Davis amassed over 100 yards on the ground and two touchdowns, including the 63-yard dash that gave the Knights the lead before halftime.
All but one touchdown in the entire game was earned on the ground. The one outlier belonged to Blair junior wide receiver Brady Mason, who caught a long pass from quarterback Khalif Welch and sprinted 70 yards to put the Blazers on the board first. Welch took aim and caught Mason in stride down the right sideline and then the junior was off to the races as the Knights could not catch him.
Despite big plays by both teams, though, a steady stream of yellow flags flew onto the field throughout the game. The Knights were penalized four times on one drive alone, and those penalties negated long runs by running back Olivier Zagadou and wide receiver Vincent Nwachi. What had started as a promising drive in Blair territory degenerated into a 2nd and 30 deep in Wheaton territory, and soon the Knights were forced to punt.
Davis put points up for Wheaton in the second quarter, but a failed two-point conversion left the Knights trailing by one. Another unsuccessful two-point conversion after Davis’s second touchdown resulted in a five-point Wheaton lead, which carried the Knights into the second half.
Meanwhile, the Wheaton defense brought the pressure against Welch, and the quarterback instinctively backpedaled from his opponents. However, the defensive barrage often resulted in Welch overthrowing his intended receiver. Davis displayed his skills as a linebacker when he sacked Welch for a loss in the second quarter.
Blair’s defense recovered a costly Wheaton fumble, and soon the Blazers were setting up shop on Wheaton’s 32-yard line. A facemask penalty against the Knights put Williams in prime position for the go-ahead touchdown. Another Wheaton penalty on the extra point attempt brought the Blazers closer to the goal line; first-year Blair Head Coach Sam Nosoff called for the two-point conversion, and the attempt was successful.
A win was still within reach for Wheaton though. The Knights converted on fourth down during a late drive after Blair was penalized for a defensive pass interference. Wheaton Head Coach Mark Saunders called for another fourth-down conversion later during the same drive, but quarterback Kelvin Pedroza’s pass fell incomplete. One last attempt at a fourth-down conversion also fell incomplete in the game’s final minutes, and the Knights dropped to 1-2.
However, Blair’s margin of victory was the closest it has been all year, and Nosoff attributed that to Wheaton’s pre-game preparation.
“The game plan was, for lack of a better phrase, to play our game. We came in wanting to be a little bit better at what we do,” said Nosoff. “Obviously, the game plan didn’t exactly unfold as we had hoped for. I think we underestimated how good Wheaton was going to be today. They were prepared, and we had to switch it up, and I give them all the credit.”
Even though his team lost a close game, Saunders feels that the Knights are moving in the right direction. Wheaton has not had a winning season since 2006; in 2015, the Knights finished with a .500 record and an appearance in the 3A South regional finals, but that season was Wheaton’s sole bright spot in the past decade.
The Knights have a chance to get to .500 again on Sept. 27 against winless Springbrook High School.
“We’ve got kids that can play. Our team is changing totally. The kids are starting to understand football,” said Saunders. “It’s a teachable moment. I think sometimes you’ve got to get over that edge, and I think we’re almost there. We’re just getting better every game, and at some point, Wheaton High School will be a powerhouse.”