Football Faces Tough Challenge Against Paint Branch Panthers

by Josh Averbach ’18

The 6-1 Warriors have played some stellar football recently. But they will run into a challenge in the Paint Branch Panthers, who are also 6-1, at home on October 20.

The Warriors were highly touted coming into the season. After a 10-1 (including playoffs) 2016, the Warriors opened 2017 with a 44-0 win against an overwhelmed Magruder team. After this win, Sherwood jumped from twentieth to sixteenth in The Washington Post’s Metro Area rankings (currently, the Warriors are unranked).

Sherwood’s second game of the season came on the road against the then-fourth-ranked (third in the most recent rankings) Damascus Swarmin’ Hornets. Damascus, perhaps the state’s best public school team, has appeared in the last three 3A state championships and won the last two. By beating Damascus, Sherwood would have dramatically established their place as a contender for states.

The Warriors knew that they would have to bring their A-game to beat Damascus, and unfortunately for them, Sherwood did not quite have it that night. After a close first quarter, Damascus busted the game open and never looked back, cruising to a 42-7 victory.

Despite the disappointing loss, the Warriors were determined not to let it define their season. Senior two-way lineman and captain Everett Stubblefield asserted that the team would use that loss as motivation going forward.

And use it they have. After that tough loss to Damascus, Sherwood has dominated all of its opponents. In consecutive weeks, they beat Einstein, Richard Montgomery, Wheaton, Blair and Northwood. None of these teams has even mounted much of a challenge; Sherwood won each of those games by a whopping 21 points or more.

“Really it was just getting healthy. We had a few guys hurt, not playing at a hundred percent, one or two guys who were out for that game [against Damascus]. Having those guys back, especially healthy, is really the biggest difference between the Damascus game and where we’re at right now,” said coach Christopher Grier.

Sherwood’s post-Damascus success has been particularly evident on defense; with the exception of Richard Montgomery, who lost 42-18, no Sherwood opponent has mustered more than eight points.

“We’ve gotten healthy since [the Damascus game], and [we] are really coming together as a unit. The strategy from our defensive coaches week-to-week has also been exceptional. We feel like we have the athletes at every position on defense to be able to compete with anyone,” said senior safety and wide receiver Joey Hunt.

Sherwood has also found a rhythm on offense, averaging 39 points per game since the loss at Damascus. In recent weeks, Sherwood has mounted a productive air-attack led by senior quarterback Michael Mbony, an Army commit (Division I) who also received offers from other military academies and from several Ivy League schools.

“I would say [the key to our offensive success recently has been] our short passing game. Taking advantage of quick little bubble-routes, screens, and things like that allows our athletes to make plays in space,” said Grier. But Paint Branch may be Sherwood’s best opponent since Damascus. Like Sherwood, Paint Branch has a staunch defense, having held their opponents to 14 or fewer points in all but one game. Sherwood’s offense will need to find some room to operate in order to escape this game with a victory.

“There have been games where we’ve had trouble executing when we have opportunities. The biggest thing is us getting better every day of practicing … and making sure that when we have those opportunities in games, we capitalize,” said Grier. “There’s no secret weapon or new plays… we just need to be able to do what we’re supposed to do when we’re supposed to do them.”