As the football lay on the ground just in front of him early in the fourth quarter, James Farmer could hardly believe his eyes. He was closest to the ball, without an opponent nearby.

Quince Orchard’s senior defensive tackle rarely is noticed. His job normally is to close off running lanes and prevent blockers from reaching the Cougars’ linebackers. But here was an opportunity to grab the spotlight and the 5-foot-11, 230-pound Farmer took advantage.

In a game littered with missed opportunities and marked by defensive stops, Farmer delivered the clinching play, picking up a fumble and rumbling 24 yards for Quince Orchard’s second touchdown in 23 seconds as the third-ranked Cougars beat Paint Branch, 24-8, in a Montgomery County nonleague game between previously unbeaten teams in Silver Spring.

“I just thought it was unreal,” said Farmer, confirming that the celebration by his teammates was for his first career touchdown. “I thought the play had stopped or something. But I kept playing. I didn’t hear a whistle.”

On the sideline, Quince Orchard Coach Dave Mencarini looked across the field and figured it was his star junior linebacker, Marcus Newby, who had scooped up the ball. Defensive end Laquan Wilkerson, who also had three tackles for loss, had forced the fumble when he sacked Paint Branch’s quarterback.

“Then I realized how slow he was running,” Mencarini said.

“It was scary,” Farmer said. “I couldn’t see if anybody was behind me.”

Farmer had just enough of a head start to reach the end zone, giving the Cougars a 24-0 lead. That was more than enough for a defensive unit that intercepted three passes, recovered two fumbles (Farmer forced the other) and tallied four sacks.

That helped overcome Quince Orchard’s own mistake-filled performance, which included four interceptions and a punt that bounced off one of its players and was recovered by Paint Branch (2-1).

Mark Green rushed for 127 yards and one touchdown for Quince Orchard (3-0) despite sitting out the first quarter for violating a team rule, Mencarini said.

“It was an odd game, a strange game,” Mencarini said. “I don’t believe in luck. Great teams create luck. Our defense rose to the challenge after every negative play.”