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With a playoff spot on the line, the Walt Whitman High School football team opened the game with a 35-yard run.
Nearly everything else went Paint Branch's way.
The Panthers looked in playoff form in a 36-8 rout of the host Vikings on Friday. Whitman (5-5), which entered the night in the fourth and final regional seed, was eliminated by virtue of Bethesda-Chevy Chase's win over Walter Johnson.
Paint Branch locked up either the second or third seed in the 4A North, and will play Catonsville (Baltimore County) next week. Catonsville plays another Baltimore school, Parkville, Saturday and the result will determine which team gets home field advantage ... though the Panthers (9-1) play home games at Montgomery Blair.
“We still shot ourselves in the foot too many times,” Paint Branch coach Mike Nesmith said afterward. “As a coach, they sound like nitpicky things because they may not have affected the final score.”
He couldn't hide his smile afterward, though.
The Panthers are playing their best ball of the season, and handed the Vikings their worst loss ... by far. It started with their defense, stopping Whitman quarterback Michael Flack to end the game's opening drive and forcing running back Val Djidotor to fumble on the host's second drive.
Senior Thomas Handy recovered on the Vikings' 46-yard line, then scored the game's first touchdown on a 7-yard swing pass from quarterback David Smith. He then returned the second half kickoff 70 yards for a touchdown to put the game virtually out of reach, 24-0.
An earlier Paint Branch touchdown was one of the strangest of the season, anywhere.
Late in the second quarter, a Whitman punt stopped at the Paint Branch 48-yard line. Numerous Vikings players surrounded it.
And yet, seconds later, Paint Branch's Ortiz Jones scooped it — streaking past players on both teams who had stopped long before — and took it the distance.
“I was walking to the sidelines, actually,” Jones said. “Then I heard someone yell, ‘Pick it up!' I guess the whistle hadn't blown, so I just picked it up and ran.”
The Vikings didn't quit. Flack ran in the team's only score late in the third quarter and threw for the two-point conversion to cut the deficit to 15. His next pass was intercepted by Jones deep in Whitman territory though, and Panthers senior Bene't Willis scored on a mazy, 15-yard touchdown run on the next play.
Now the Panthers wait less than 24 hours to know their destiny. As Nesmith said: “We'll be on the bus either way.”
With two wins, they would earn their first state playoff appearance in 36 years.
“We know Catonsville likes to go power-I [formation],” Jones said. “We'll be ready. ... We think we can win this state championship.”
Paint Branch 36, Whitman 8
Paint Branch (9-1) 7 10 12 7—36
Walt Whitman (8-2) 0 0 8 0—8
P: Handy 7 pass from Smith (Littlejohn kick)
P: Littlejohn 22 field goal
P: Jones 52 punt return (Littlejohn kick)
P: Handy 70 kick return (kick failed)
W: Flack 5 run (pass converted)
P: Willis 15 run (kick failed)
P: Ojong-nkiri 48 run (Littlejohn kick)
RUSHING — P: Willis 14-95; Handy 6-30; Smith 3-13; Staley 2-3; Ojong-nkiri 1-48. W: Djidotor 14-134; Flack 10-51; Soumah 3-23; Morton 3-13; Nejad 1-5.
PASSING — P: Smith 8-16-47-2. W: Flack 5-13-72-2; Hanessian 1-3-10-1.
RECEIVING — P: Handy 4-13; Jones 2-27; Willis 1-7. W: Orr 2-23; Werner 1-16; Djidotor 1-11; Miltenberg 1-5; Nejad 1-3.