Last February, three months after Quince Orchard blew a three-touchdown lead and lost to Old Mill in the Maryland 4A championship, a group of Cougar captains brought the state runner-up trophy to the first team meeting of 2012.

The trophy was put on display in the school’s weight room all winter, spring and summer — a chilling reminder of what was lost. On Friday night, the Cougars took the first step in the quest to replace it.

The Quince Orchard defense forced three critical turnovers, and D’Andre Johnson added two electrifying touchdowns as the Cougars beat Sherwood, 28-12, living up to their preseason billing as one of the best teams in the region — at least for one game.

“That’s how you win games,” said Coach David Mencarini, “you go through the highs and the lows.”

It was the first time in Mencarini’s nine years at Quince Orchard that his program had beaten Sherwood on the road — and the Cougars looked like a team with a chip on its shoulder from the start. Mencarini called six straight runs to open the game — then used an ambush-play-action pass to catch the Warriors off guard on the seventh play of the possession, as junior quarterback Mike Murtaugh hit D’Andre Johnson on a 49-yard touchdown pass.

On the ensuing drive, after Quince Orchard pinned Sherwood deep in its own territory, linebacker Carlo St. Regis intercepted a tipped pass and returned it six yards for a touchdown. It was exactly the type of one-two punch that Mencarini expected from his team to open the 2012 campaign. He was particularly enamored with his defense, which allowed just one scoring drive all evening and held Sherwood to just 78 yards rushing.

“Those guys are phenomenal defensive players,” said Mencarini of his unit. “We’ve got some growing pains, and we’ll get through it.”

Sherwood got a breath of life after Elijah Spottswood returned the second-half kickoff for a touchdown — but both offenses struggled for long stretches in the opener. Starting running back Tyrell Williams tweaked his ankle early and only had 15 yards on six carries — but senior running back Keano Wilder picked up the slack with 54 yards on 17 carries and Johnson helped Quince Orchard take over the game in the fourth when he sliced open the Sherwood defense with a 46-yard touchdown that made it 21-12 with just under 10 minutes to play.

That score came after defensive back Kyle Gregory forced a Sherwood fumble minutes earlier.

It was a grinding win for the Cougars, but linebacker Marcus Newby — who was a menace in the Sherwood backfield all evening — doesn’t want the victory to become a signature way to win for his club. There’s more work to do, back in the weight room and on the practice field come Monday.

“We lined up well. We made adjustments when we needed to,” said Newby in a matter-of-fact tone. “I’m happy, but I’m not satisfied.”