Tears welled up in Quince Orchard quarterback Mike Murtaugh’s eyes. After his team broke from a postgame cheer on Friday night, Murtaugh hobbled on his crutches behind his running teammates, a black wrap on his left leg and an uncertainty in his coach’s stomach about when he would play again this season.
Yes, fourth-ranked Quince Orchard dismantled Paint Branch, 34-0, in a Montgomery nonleague game in Gaithersburg. But it came with a heavy price.
Murtaugh was hurt on Quince Orchard’s first series, and by the time he was back on his feet and on crutches, he had joined a star-studded list of Cougars players watching from the sideline, including starters Tyrell Williams, Keano Wilder and Elliott Davis — the latter two also hurt Friday night.
Williams and Davis are the top two running backs on the Cougars’ roster, but that was an afterthought in their third straight win. Manuel Brown bruised his way to 110 yards and two touchdowns, all in the second half, and speedster D’Andre Johnson complemented his sidekick with 81 yards on 11 carries, including a number of highlight-worthy cutbacks that flustered Paint Branch’s defense all evening.
After Murtaugh was hurt, junior backup quarterback Tobin Pagley entered the game and ran the offense crisply. He threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to Matt Choi in the first quarter after a crafty ball-fake and rushed for two one-yard touchdowns, the last coming after Pagley engineered a 12-play, 60-yard drive that made it 20-0 and put Paint Branch (2-1) away.
“When [Murtaugh’s injury] happens in the middle of the game, there’s nothing you can do but just empower the kids that are going to step in,” said Quince Orchard Coach Dave Mencarini, who described Murtaugh’s leg injury as serious. “There’s probably not a lot of teams that could put in a second-team quarterback and score 34 points against a great defensive team.”
Paint Branch’s noise-makers were muted all evening — and the Panthers recorded just one first down in the second half. Quince Orchard middle linebacker Marcus Newby kept Paint Branch’s Gaston Cooper in check — spying on the mobile Cooper and picking him off late in the first quarter to end the Panthers’ most promising drive. Newby is the unheralded quarterback of the defense, and he helped feed Pagley opportunities.
“That’s the thing,” said Newby, who had seven tackles. “We have depth. Next person had to step up. Tobin came out in the second half and made it work.”
There is something to be said about Quince Orchard’s depth, and Paint Branch Coach Mike Nesmith didn’t blink when Murtaugh left the game. He knew he still had to deal with a stable of running backs — and Newby at linebacker.
The Nebraska recruit “made a great interception early on,” Nesmith said. “But it just wasn’t Newby. It was their entire front seven, really. I mean, even when we executed well, they were right there to stop us.”