The footwork of Paint Branch quarterback Gaston Cooper has come along way in recent weeks, the result of the Panthers coaching staff pushing for more progression and variety in the passing game. Two weeks ago, in a 35-0 win over Blair, Cooper ran 12 times and amassed 210 yards of total offense, but the Panthers also had six different receivers catch passes.
Last week in a win over Bethesda-Chevy Chase, Cooper had one of his best — and most accurate — games of the season completing 26-of-36 passes for 268 yards and no interceptions, and five different players had two catches or more.
Those numbers are a product of better footwork following the loss to Northwest on Oct. 11, Cooper said, and he’ll need to work through his progressions again this week when the Panthers (7-1, 4-0 Montgomery 4A East) host the talented defense of Sherwood (6-2, 3-0).
“Coaches have really tried to emphasize that and press that down on me at practice, and just staying through my progressions and not force a bad play,” Cooper said. “We feel like we can move the ball on anybody, so it will just be another game.”
Cooper certainly moved the ball at will last week against the Barons, throwing for five touchdown passes. Sherwood, with a secondary that features versatile Elijah Spottswood (two interceptions against Quince Orchard) and Alec Perez (seven interceptions this season), has allowed just five touchdown passes all season. Cooper said he will be focused on keeping his “feet alive,” Friday, extending plays when he sees pressure. Cooper, who also leads the team in rushing with 397 yards and 12 touchdowns, has also thrown 24 touchdown passes. Of those scores, 11 have gone to senior Javonn Curry (41 catches, 600 yards) and eight have found the waiting hands of Ryan Stango (39 catches, 625 yards).
“I’m happy that he can take a lot of pressure off of me,” Curry said of Stango, “and that he can make the plays that he can.”
With two weeks to go, this game will likely determine the Montgomery County 4A East champ, and will have major implications on home-field advantage. That is a crucial piece of winning in November, Curry said, although as Cooper put it, the offense will run fast-paced regardless.
“It’s nothing that we can’t really handle,” Cooper said. “[Sherwood] will give us a good run for our money. . . we just have to do what we’re capable of doing.”
The Maryland 3A West region ranks among the toughest in the MPSSAA, one that routinely places four championship contenders in the postseason each year.
Talented teams have been left out of the playoffs in the past as a result, and this year looks no different.
Of all the playoff divisions in each classification, the 3A West has the most combined undefeated and one-loss teams remaining with four. That has led to a high points average at the top, leaving a few of the Montgomery County teams sitting on the outside looking in with two weeks to go.
Damascus (7-1) has clinched a playoff berth with an points average of 9.81. The next closest Montgomery County team is Seneca Valley (5-3), tied for fifth place, with 5.88. Rockville (5.50) and Einstein (5.43) are in eighth and ninth place, respectively.
It will be an uphill climb for any of the remaining Montgomery County schools to reach the postseason.
The team to chase is South Hagerstown (7-1), which is in fourth place with an average of 8.13.
“I’ve always referred to the 3A West as the SEC of Maryland football,” Einstein Coach Jermaine Howell said.
Any chance for the Montgomery schools to sneak in could come down to this weekend. Seneca Valley travels to Einstein (4-3) in what is essentially an elimination game. Rockville (5-3) hosts Wootton (4-4) in a game the Rams could use to pick up some added bonus points against a 4A opponent.
However, the Montgomery 3A schools will still need some help. For Seneca Valley, Einstein and Rockville to have a shot at playing beyond Week 10, North Hagerstown (5-3) will need to lose to Brunswick (3-5) and South Hagerstown must falter against Williamsport (2-6). Then, North Hagerstown would need to defeat rival South Hagerstown in the season finale.
Even in that scenario, the MPSSAA points system could wind up working against the Montgomery teams.
“The only thing we can do is try to continue to win games,” Howell said. “I honestly think the 3A West is the toughest division in the state.”
Feliz-Platt makes plays in passing game
Adrian Feliz-Platt has become an integral piece of the Seneca Valley offense this season.
Not only has he stepped in as the Screaming Eagles’ first freshman to start at running back since the mid-1990s, he’s become a key component for the offense to produce plays.
Recently, Feliz-Platt has emerged as a target in the passing game, with Seneca Valley opting for more of a spread-offense passing attack this season.
In last week’s 16-14 loss to Damascus, Feliz-Platt was Seneca Valley’s leading receiver, catching eight passes for 97 yards.
“He just only gets better and better with experience,” Seneca Valley Coach Fred Kim said. “He’s crucial and critical to our offense. Tremendous, dynamic football player. Lots of big-play ability. That’s something we need to focus on.”