GERMANTOWN – The years 2004, 2013 and 2014 were spray-painted in black in the end zone of Northwest High School’s football field. The numbers were enormous and covered the left corner of the end zone from top to bottom. With the playoffs in full swing, the Jaguars (11-1) had an on-field reminder of what they are playing for.
After all, those are the years that Northwest won the state championship.
On Nov. 22, the Jaguars took one step forward towards another state title when they defeated Paint Branch High School (10-2) in the state quarterfinals at the Black Hole by a score of 20-12. Northwest is now 9-0 all-time against the Panthers.
The Jaguars were victorious despite a barrage of turnovers: five in total, with four of them in the first half. Both defenses displayed their mettle as offenses sputtered, but in the end, Paint Branch’s youth and inexperience proved to be the deciding factor in a game that was up for grabs until the very end.
Before the season started, Paint Branch Head Coach Mike Nesmith knew that the 2019 Panthers were going to be a rebuilding team. Except for running back Sam Doku, every other offensive starter from the 2018 team had graduated.
“This year we knew it was going to be somewhat of a struggle. We had a great season and everything, but it was just challenging. It was a lot of teaching in a different way just because we were so inexperienced in so many different spots,” said Nesmith. “We just made a lot of mistakes that were frustrating. This is going to be a difficult film to watch.”
Northwest poured the defensive pressure on Paint Branch quarterback Octavian Smith and caused the sophomore to scramble. As a result, dropped passes and incompletions plagued the Panthers. Smith fought through the pain of an injured ankle and often called his number when an open receiver failed to materialize.
Smith was not the only backpedaling quarterback on the field though. The Paint Branch defense returned the favor and went after Northwest signal-caller Jordan Morse. Panthers defensive back Ira Oniha intercepted Morse twice; the first interception came on the third play of the game. A sack on Morse knocked the ball loose and linebacker Ysaiahs Mohammed recovered for Paint Branch.
As a result, Northwest relied on its running game, especially senior Ajahni “Mack Truck” Terry. He registered over 150 yards on the ground and lived up to his nickname by cutting sharply to the right after a handoff and kicking into high gear for a 73-yard touchdown.
“When I saw the open air, I just thought, ‘I have to hit it’ and then I hit it. Then I saw the safety and I thought, ‘I have to make him miss,’ and I made him miss,” said Terry. “Once I got down the sidelines, all that’s in my head is just to run, so that’s what I did.”
The Jaguars never relinquished their lead, but the Panthers pulled within one point on two occasions. Running back Tobi Adedoyin earned both of Paint Branch’s touchdowns, but Northwest blocked the extra point attempt both times and kept the Panthers from tying the game.
A scoreless third quarter meant that a win was in reach for either team as they headed into the final period. Then, Morse connected with wide receiver Ryan Beach for a 4-yard touchdown with under two minutes left to extend the lead.
The Panthers had one more opportunity to tie and force overtime, but the Jaguars brought the defensive pressure again and almost intercepted Smith twice on the final drive.
A last-ditch effort on fourth down fell incomplete, and the Jaguars began to rejoice on the sidelines.
The win extended Northwest’s postseason campaign, but now the Jaguars must face the only team that beat them all season: the defending state champion Quince Orchard Cougars.
The regular-season game between the two squads was not a high-scoring one, but the Cougars still came away with the win. The game scheduled for Nov. 29 is to earn the right to play for the state title.
“We’re excited to have another shot at them; they’re a great football team,” said Northwest Head Coach Mike Neubeiser. “They’re ranked right up there at the top of the state and they’re the defending champs.”
“They’re a tough team, but so are we. We match up well,” said Terry. “We just got to do what we got to do and come out with the W.”