Gaithersburg is experiencing a rare losing season and will not reach the playoffs for the first time since 1996. But that did nothing to lessen the exuberance that accompanied Wootton's 29-28 victory over the Trojans Friday.

Patriots fans stormed the field after Gaithersburg missed a potential game-winning field goal as time expired, and Wootton players celebrated an uncommon victory.

"I was told it was about 20 years since we'd beaten them, so it's been a while," said Wootton Coach Doug Miller, whose team improved to 3-5. "It was just a really good moment for Wootton football. My seniors really deserved a great win."

Gaithersburg (3-5) led, 28-13 in the fourth quarter, but sophomore Joshua McCants, who recently had moved up to the Patriots' varsity, intercepted a pass and returned it to the Trojans 6-yard line. Wootton senior quarterback George Graves (15 of 25, 169 yards, 3 TDs, 1 INT) then hit junior Marc Brown for a touchdown, and on the Patriots' ensuing two-point conversion attempt, Graves again threw to Brown to cut Gaithersburg's lead to 28-21.

The Trojans then drove deep into Wootton territory, but Patriots senior free safety Joey Harper picked off a pass in the end zone and returned it to the Wootton 15-yard line. The Patriots then drove 85 yards and got within one when Graves hit Brown for a 19-yard touchdown. Miller decided to try to take the lead, and Graves threw to senior Jack Sonley for the two-point conversion.

Gaithersburg had two more possessions, driving within field goal range on its second, but did not score.

"It was a great, classic game," Miller said.

Panthers Pick Six

A week after recording its second shutout of the season (32-0 over Kennedy), the Paint Branch defense keyed another victory last Friday. The Panthers picked off six passes in a 20-7 victory over Springbrook.

"It was one of those days where you're playing your rival, and everything went your way," Paint Branch Coach Ernie Williams said. "Well, not everything, but for the first time, we made all the big plays."

Senior Norman Seignious picked off three passes, and classmates Matt Parker, Chris Hart and Jonathan Hill had one apiece.

"The defense has been playing well all year long," Williams said. "We had one bad outing, [a 42-6 loss to second-ranked Northwest], but Northwest can make anyone look bad."

A four-game losing streak in the middle of the season, including 21-14 to Blake, eliminated Paint Branch from the playoff chase. But the Panthers will have a chance to play spoiler when they play at Sherwood (6-2) tomorrow.

Churchill Rolls On

Since losing to Quince Orchard, 22-6, in the second week of the season, Churchill has won six straight games to assume control of its playoff fortunes. A victory over Blake (5-3) tomorrow likely would assure the Bulldogs a playoff berth. And beating Whitman (6-2) in the season finale could allow Churchill to host a first-round playoff game.

Few teams have played as well as Churchill during their six-game winning streak -- the Bulldogs have outscored their opponents 171-22.

Last week, in a 44-2 victory over Walter Johnson, senior running back Travis Schroeder had three touchdowns for the second game in a row -- he ran for two and returned a punt 65 yards for a score. Quarterback Nick Scrivens, meanwhile, has completed 27 of his 45 pass attempts in the last three games for 485 yards, 10 touchdowns and no interceptions.

"He wore soccer cleats to [last Friday's] game," Churchill Coach Jamie Collins said of Scrivens, a standout soccer player who is playing football for the first time. "He said, 'I'm trying to prove a soccer player can come into your sport and dominate.' "

Gradual Improvement

In an 0-10 2003 season, Watkins Mill was outscored 413-37. The closest game the Wolverines played was a 20-0 season-opening loss to Whitman.

This season, in addition to posting a 20-14 victory over Walter Johnson to stop a 14-game skid, Watkins Mill has been competitive in many of its losses. Friday the Wolverines fell to Blair, 14-12, when a two-point conversion attempt failed with 28 seconds to play. Earlier in the year, Watkins Mill lost to Gaithersburg, 13-6. The Wolverines have scored 75 points (twice last year's total) and yielded 189.

Another bright spot has been senior running back Justin Carter, who has broken the school record for rushing yards in a season with 1,225.

Wootton quarterback George Graves, above during a loss to Churchill, rallied the Patriots past Gaithersburg by throwing two fourth-quarter touchdowns.