Potomac Falls Coach Casey Childs sat behind a desk in the team's meeting room Monday afternoon fiddling with a new computer program that projects game film onto a wall and, as it rolls in slow motion, allows him to chart each play the Panthers have run this season. For each possession, he noted the team's formation and the result of the play.
The new system had Childs back reviewing the Panthers' 20-18 loss to Broadway that started the 2004 season. Unfortunately for the Panthers -- and for Childs -- many of the tapes played out the same way.
Potomac Falls (2-3 overall, 1-1 AA Dulles District) features one of the league's top defenses. It also has an offense that has proved more than capable of moving the football. The problem -- which caused Childs to cringe as he pointed out multiple times on the Broadway film -- has been turnovers.
The Panthers have lost 17 fumbles, including three on special teams, and been intercepted once. Three of those games have resulted in losses by two, six and seven points.
"My 3-year-old holds on to the football better than we do," Childs said, shaking his head as yet another football on the tape fell from a Panthers' grip. "You think I'm kidding, too. But that's not a joke."
Potomac Falls's only win in which it had turnovers came last week, 27-21 against Loudoun County.
But even in that one, the Panthers nearly wasted a 21-point lead they had built in the first quarter with three second-half fumbles.
The Panthers were errorless in their only other win, a 27-0 victory at Millbrook.
"All I can think when I see the ball hit the ground is 'Not again!' " said senior defensive end Adrian Tracy, who leads the team with four sacks and two blocked punts. "We finally get things started, and then the fumbles just kill us. It seems like it's always when we're driving downfield and are about to do something, too, that it happens. And it's like, 'Why now?' or 'Why at all?' "
As a result of the turnovers, Childs estimates the defense has been on the field at least three times as much as the offense. And the fact that it has yielded 61 points in five games is especially staggering considering this statistic: Of the nine touchdowns scored against Potomac Falls, only once has the opponent begun the drive on its half of the field. The other eight have come with Panthers' defense backed up inside its 40-yard line.
"It's hard to be on the field so much because it seems like we never have the whole field to work with," said junior linebacker Jay Branom, the team's leading tackler with 23 solos and 44 total. "It's gotten to where when someone fumbles, we do bicker about it, but then we always come back together.
"It's just so frustrating because we're a better team than we've shown. People haven't seen the true Potomac Falls yet."
That, for everyone involved, is the hardest fact to swallow.
"I know it's all 'ifs' and 'buts' . . . but we could very easily be sitting here at 5-0," Childs said. "But we're not. So our focus now is just to get back to .500 and then let the chips fall from that point.
"We've put ourselves in a hole, but we can still have a winning and productive season. And the best thing for me as a coach is that I've never faulted our effort. And that's not just on defense. Our offense is playing very well and moving the ball. We're just shooting ourselves in the foot with fumbles and key penalties that you can't have if you want to win football games.
"As hard as these kids are working, though, I figure we're bound to have some good things happen for us soon."