Seneca Valley linebacker Austen Herbert was appointed the defensive play-caller a year ago as a sophomore, when he was surrounded by a senior-laden defense. He’s inherited the role again in 2012, and to say the least, Herbert is much more comfortable as the leader this season for a young unit that has had to adhere to his alignment calls and audibles, which have all seemed to come at the right times.
But when the No. 16 Screaming Eagles meet third-ranked Quince Orchard Friday evening in a Montgomery nonleague game, Herbert will be charged with the toughest assignment of his career. In the wake of a revamped offense that has been crippled by injuries at key skill positions, the Cougars have evolved with a unique two quarterback system – one that uses junior Tobin Pagley as a classic passer and wide receiver Matt Choi as a “Wildcat” formation runner. Choi, who led the team in rushing with 91 yards in last week’s win over Northwest, is also a former quarterback in the program and will test Seneca Valley’s secondary, too.
“I’m going to have to be more focused. I’m going to have to be paying attention, allowing the rest of the defense to know what’s going on on the field,” Herbert said. “QO is a real fast team. Definitely going to have to be on my toes.”
Seneca Valley Coach Fred Kim, who served as the head coach at Quince Orchard during the 2002 season, said the Cougars “probably have the best defense in the state of Maryland, bar none.”
Herbert doesn’t want his unit to buy into the notion that Seneca Valley is the “other” defense in this highly touted matchup. Limiting Pagley and Choi will be crucial come Friday – and thinking about outdueling Quince Orchard’s defense is a potentially costly mistake.
“I would argue that they’re one one of the best offenses in the state,” Herbert said. “I think it is going to have to come down to what defense is going to show up for the night. I hope our defense is prepared to fulfill that.”
Damascus has rolled through the first month of the season, outscoring its opponents, 148-14, in four wins. That success has been a windfall for the team’s backups as most of the Hornet starters have played only a few fourth-quarter snaps all season. Some of the squad’s top playmakers have spent more time on the sideline after halftime than on the field to this point.
Fifteenth-ranked Damascus (4-0) expects its toughest test to date on Friday with a Montgomery nonleague trip to Sherwood (3-1). Coach Eric Wallich has done his best to prepare his team for a full 48-minute game, but in reality, the Hornets — who rely on several two-way starters — haven’t experienced one yet this season.
“You never really know how guys are going to respond,” Wallich said. “You start to wonder a little bit about cramping and things like that.”
Damascus has built those large leads by showcasing its dangerous stable of skill position players. Senior Zach Bradshaw (Virginia) and sophomore Jalen Christian — both wide receivers who also start on defense — have three total touchdowns apiece this season with each of those scoring plays covering more than 20 yards.
Sherwood has been strong on defense with two shutouts in the past three weeks. In their season-opener, the Warriors hung with Quince Orchard into the fourth quarter before falling 28-12.
“I don’t think they’re scared of anybody,” Coach Mike Bonavia said of his players. “We’ve got the kids believing that if we can defend Q.O.’s offense, which is pretty powerful and fast, then we have a shot against Damascus.”
Most of the coaches involved in the game are plenty familiar with each other, stemming from the coaching tree of Al Thomas — the legendary Montgomery County coach who won state titles at both schools and Seneca Valley.
Bonavia was an assistant under Thomas at Damascus when Wallich played for the Hornets. Thomas — who retired at Sherwood after winning the Maryland 4A title in 2008 — is in his second season as Wallich’s defensive coordinator, while Sherwood’s first-year offensive coordinator Chuck Oswald was also a long-time assistant under Thomas.
Damascus and Sherwood combined on one of the more peculiar Montgomery County games last season with Sherwood winning, 14-3, despite managing just four first downs on offense. Quarterback Jordan Larsen — now a second-year starter for the Warriors — accounted for one of the touchdowns with a pass to himself when he caught a batted attempt near the goal line.
Quince Orchard and Churchill (3-1) lead the Maryland 4A West standings, but plenty of teams remain in solid playoff position with seven of the region’s 13 squads currently at 2-2. A pair of them meet on Saturday afternoon in Bethesda when Whitman hosts Bethesda-Chevy Chase. The Barons (2-2) had been shut out two straight games before putting up 39 points in last week’s win over Kennedy, while the Vikings (2-2) have not allowed a point in their last nine quarters. . . .
Gaithersburg starting quarterback Nick Decarlo is still suffering from an injured foot and is uncertain to start Friday night against Churchill. Decarlo, a junior, was replaced last week by senior backup Steven Funk, who completed 5-of-7 passes for 57 yards and a touchdown. Gaithersburg Coach Kreg Kephart said that despite the quarterback situation, junior running back Solomon Vault will continue to get the lion’s share of offensive touches against Churchill. Vault rushed 18 times for 155 yards last week, and has scored eight rushing touchdowns through four games this season. . . .
After being outscored 62-7 in its first two games, Blake has allowed just 22 points in two straight wins over Watkins Mill and Paint Branch, the latter of which came in a 7-3 victory last week over the Panthers. Blake held Paint Branch to just 133 yards of total offense in the victory. The Bengals will face Wheaton (1-3) on Friday. . . .
Creating offense is a top priority for Magruder (1-3) this week against Einstein (1-3). In the past three weeks, the Colonels have lost 42-0 to Paint Branch, 55-0 to Northwest and 31-0 to Gaithersburg, and have scored just one offensive touchdown all season. Tyrii Jackson, who plays linebacker, wide receiver and running back for Magruder, was installed as the quarterback against Gaithersburg, throwing for 31 yards on a night when the Colonels compiled just 132 yards of total offense.