Paint Branch receiver Thomas Lucas carries himself silently, with a soft-spoken demeanor that clashes with his on-the-field style. He wears bright red cleats that don’t match the Panthers’ burgundy uniforms, and when the helmet comes off for water breaks, he sports diamond earrings and a close-crop fade haircut. Quiet but flashy. That’s how Lucas’ season has started.
Lucas touched the ball just once last week on offense in a 42-0 win over Magruder, and it resulted in a 35-yard touchdown. The week before, in a 41-18 win over Rockville, the Connecticut commit touched the ball just once on offense as well, which went for a 57-yard touchdown. That was on the first possession of the game, and on the very next series, he returned an interception 41-yards for a touchdown.
He is Coach Mike Nesmith’s best offensive asset, on both sides of the ball, which is why Nesmith has been focusing all week on ways to get Lucas more involved come Friday night against No. 4 Quince Orchard. The Panthers’ playoff lives very well may depend on it.
The script was similar a year ago, when both teams were 2-0 and looking to make a move. Quince Orchard dominated Paint Branch 24-8, and the Panthers would finish the regular season 9-1. That singular blemish sent Nesmith’s club on the road the first week of the playoffs, where Paint Branch lost 30-28 to Catonsville.
“If we lose Friday, then we basically have to run the table to make the playoffs. We’re fighting for our playoff lives in week three. We don’t want to have to go on the road like we did last year,” Nesmith said. “We’re going to need [Lucas] to make a play for us. We’re going to need an explosive play.”
Nesmith believes Quince Orchard’s defense has no weaknesses, so he didn’t try to get creative this week in game-planning. Limiting “superstar plays” from linebackers Marcus Newby and Carlo St. Regis, and defensive back Kyle Gregory will be crucial – but so will getting Lucas out in space. Offensively, Paint Branch plans to use Lucas out wide on the perimeter — and as a ball-hawk from his safety post on defense. He’ll also handle kick-returning duties for the Panthers.
“I expect every team to key on me,” Lucas said. “My touches have been limited. I’ve seen a lot of changes, like when [teams] play me inside, but that doesn’t make a difference. Anyway they play me, it’s not going to make a difference. Just gotta play football, gotta get open.”
Among the reasons why a football coach might consider himself fortunate, having to deal with a horde of injured players and a few starters transferring to other schools don’t often register. And yet, Wise Coach DaLawn Parrish considers himself a lucky man entering Saturday’s Prince George’s 4A game against Eleanor Roosevelt, and it has little to do with his team being 2-0 and unscored upon yet this season.
“We’re fortunate that we’ve had a lot of injuries and some people transfer at the beginning of the year, because that allowed more people during the summer to get more work and know they were going to be relied upon,” Parrish said. “So it kind of worked out in our favor in the sense that more people got more reps than they would normally be given, and it helped in our search of, ‘Who would be that next guy to step up?’”
Senior defensive tackle Raymond Washington is one of the players Parrish lauded for taking advantage of additional opportunities. In fact, Parrish said of the 6-foot, 225-pound Washington, “we don’t know where we’d be without him right now.”
Where the Pumas are is in prime position to avenge last season’s 23-22 loss at Roosevelt. In the final minute of that game – after Wise had erased a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit – Roosevelt marched down the field and kicked a 25-yard, game-winning field goal as time expired. Parrish is hoping his defense proves sturdier this time around, particularly given the elevated play thus far this season of senior linebacker D’Angelo Niler and senior defensive end Myles Humphrey.
Roosevelt is 2-0, as well, though its path has been less stable. The Raiders struggled to hold off Bowie, 22-21, last Saturday, and Roosevelt Coach Tom Green said “if we play as poorly [against Wise] as we did last week, we might get blown out of the park.”
Parrish said his team almost is on schedule for where he’d like it to be in the third week of the season, but thus far even the defense has not met his exacting standards.
“We’re stopping people, but we need to strip the ball more,” Parrish said. “Last game we had three interceptions, but that was the result of pressure put on the quarterback, not a situation where we’re actually stepping in front of the interception. I would like for the defense to make more plays.”
No. 17 Damascus has been Montgomery County’s most dominant team through two weeks, outscoring its opponents, 76-6. Senior Zach Bradshaw, a Virginia recruit, has already scored on offense, defense and special teams. The Swarmin’ Hornets (2-0) will try to keep that momentum going in a Friday nonleague matchup at Wootton (2-0). Under first-year Coach Tyree Spinner, the Patriots already have half as many wins as they managed all of last season. . . .
Magruder starting wide receiver and defensive back Damien Green is out for the season after breaking his fibula against Paint Branch. After exclusively running the shotgun offense in the season opener, first-year Colonels Coach Kevin Bernot is in the process of trying to install more I-formation to jump-start the running game, which registered just six positive yards last week in a 42-0 loss to Paint Branch. He’s also trying to get the most out of his best athlete, 5-foot-11 190-pound Tyrii Jackson, who is starting at linebacker currently but could see snaps at slot receiver and fullback Friday night against Northwest (1-1). Jackson is also the backup quarterback for Magruder (1-1). . . .
Sherwood kicker Jake Ryder has kicked off eight times this season, with all eight resulting in touchbacks. Ryder has also converted five-of-six extra points. Warriors Coach Mike Bonavia said that safety Rich DiPietro III is drawing interest from William and Mary. Sherwood is 1-1 and travels to Gaithersburg (1-1) on Saturday.
Despite Terrence Caudle’s 129 yards and three touchdowns rushing last week in a 20-7 win over Gaithersburg, Springbrook (2-0) will try to establish the passing game more this weekend against Walter Johnson (1-1), after accumulating just 16 passing yards last week.
“We have a lot of work to do,” Springbrook Coach Adam Bahr said. “Although we want to run the ball well and we want to control the clock, we don’t want to be predictable and one-dimensional.”
Freshman quarterback Devin Butler has been far from perfect in his first two starts for defending Maryland 2A runner-up Douglass, but after winning the job in fall camp, the youngster has made more than enough plays to keep Coach J.C. Pinkney’s confidence.
Butler will face his biggest challenge yet on Saturday afternoon with a trip to rival Gwynn Park, and Pinkney has spent the week getting the signal caller ready for the spotlight of the matchup. Both teams made the Maryland 2A South playoffs last season and have split four meetings over the past three seasons.
“Devin’s a competitor, and he’s going to be ready, but if he does get a little starry eyed, I’ve got some veteran guys I can lean on,” Pinkney said. “He knows his job is to protect the ball and make good decisions, and I’ve got some older guys who can do a lot of the leg work, if necessary.”
In two games, Butler has completed 11 of 22 passes for 264 yards with three touchdowns and three interceptions. He has also rushed for 124 yards with 90 of those coming on one touchdown run late in the season-opening win over Spalding.
Douglass (2-0, 1-0 PG 3A/2A/1A) should benefit from the expected return of senior wide receiver/safety Paul Harris. Pinkney had Harris rest his sprained ankle last week against Largo, but the Tennessee recruit should be ready to go on Saturday.
During his youth league career, Butler never ran the option, and he’s still adjusting that part of the Eagles’ offense, but he’s got plenty of backfield options at his disposal, including junior fullback Avery Wood (173 rushing yards).
After a hard luck 8-6 loss to Friendly last week, Gwynn Park (1-1, 1-1) will be trying to avoid a losing streak. The Yellow Jackets shut out the Patriots for more than 59 minutes, but Friendly’s switch to a funky offensive formation paid off in a late touchdown and an improbable victory.
Gwynn Park will also be without a pair of defensive starters on Saturday, suspended for their roles in a fight during the loss.
While they struggled to score last week, the Yellow Jackets can put up points. They have their own capable passer in senior Jay Adams and a running game that piled up 176 yards and four touchdowns on the ground in a season-opening win over Potomac (Md.) behind the league's most experienced offensive line.
“It’s good football,” Gwynn Park Coach Danny Hayes said of the matchup. “We know what kind of rivalry it is, and they know what kind of rivalry it is. Now when the curtains open up on Saturday, we’ve just got to give the fans a good show.” . . .
Already off to a strong start, Friendly (2-0, 1-0) can cement its status as a Prince George’s 3A/2A/1A contender with a win at Potomac (Md.) (1-1, 0-1) on Saturday. The Patriots lost to the Wolverines, 35-0, last season but have already avenged a pair of early-season losses from 2011. Senior quarterback Thomas Corbett (217 passing yards) and junior running back Khaylen Rouse (145 rushing yards) lead Friendly’s no-huddle option attack.
Upstart Calvert has been the Southern Maryland Athletic Conference’s biggest surprise in the season’s first two weeks, and the 2-0 Cavaliers will face their toughest test yet Friday when they visit Calvert County rival Huntingtown.
Calvert (2-0, 1-0 SMAC) has allowed just a safety in its first two games, but now has to face Huntingtown’s pro-style offense that has scored 13 touchdowns so far in two lopsided wins.
“Last year we played one of our best games against them and came up a touchdown short,” Calvert Coach Rick Sneade said. “Now, here we are 2-0 and our kids are excited about this opportunity.”
Sneade is very familiar with Huntingtown’s program, having served as an assistant there from 2005-2010.
He and first-year Huntingtown Coach Brendan Galligan were both assistants on longtime coach Jerry Franks’s staff, and Sneade was an assistant on Franks’s staff at Calvert when Galligan played there in the late 90’s.
“Having both learned from Coach Franks, I’m sure there’s a similar way we prepare and a lot of the same attention to detail,” Sneade said. “Plus, having been with those kids for so long, it’s neat to go out there and match up with those guys.”
The similarities end with the coaching staffs’ shared history.
While Huntingtown (2-0, 1-0) employs a power running game with senior running back Carl Riffe to set up the pass for senior quarterback Zach Piazza, Calvert runs a more unorthodox flexbone option attack that relies on more than one or two playmakers.
The Cavaliers have not qualified for the playoffs since 2002, and a win this week against a Huntingtown squad that has played in the postseason five straight years would send a serious message that they have arrived.
“We know Calvert is an up-and-coming team,” Galligan said. “They’re going to be dangerous.”
Arundel’s high-powered offense, which has scored 97 points in two games, will face its toughest test of the season thus far Friday night at home against undefeated Meade, which has yet to give up a single point this season.
The Wildcats exploded for 627 yards of total offense last week in a 55-0 win over Northeast, and Arundel will take the field Friday against Meade with nearly 1,100 yards of offense already under its belt.
The Mustangs, who have scored 35 points or more in both games this season, will also provide the toughest test yet for Arundel’s defense, a squad that has allowed just 312 yards of total offense this season.
Meade’s offense is led by junior quarterback Marcus Smith, who has thrown for two touchdowns and run for another in each of his team’s victories this season. The balanced Mustangs feature three players averaging 7 yards per carry or better and three more that average 18 yards per reception or more.