The Northwest High School football team gave kicker Diego Melendez no favors.
Headed to kick a 32-yard field goal from the left hash in overtime — he prefers the right hash — Melendez was greeted by linebacker Trint Coulter.
“Keep your head down,” Coulter said. “Make sure you follow through. We’re going to get this done.”
Melendez prefers isolation before his kicks. Regardless, he thanked Coulter and lined up the potential game-winner.
A teammate overheard the exchange and told Coulter not to speak with the kicker. Coulter worried. Melendez didn’t.
The junior made the 32-yarder to give No. 9 Northwest a 31-28 win over No. 5 Paint Branch, capping a frantic and rain-soaked game Friday in Burtonsville.
Northwest scored 17 unanswered points, tying the game on Coulter’s interception return for a touchdown late in the third quarter and then winning on Melendez’s field goal — that he didn’t even see.
Melendez knew his kick was straight enough, but before he saw it clear the crossbar, his teammates mobbed him.
“It felt really good,” Melendez said. “After they told me I made it.”
Northwest (5-1) will leave the week with 51 playoff points and holding third place in the 4A West Region. With what will be at least a 12 point lead over the region’s fourth-place team and at least an 18-point cushion over the fifth-place team, Northwest is in prime position for back-to-back playoff appearances for the first time since 2003 and 2004.
“We’re phenomenal,” said Coulter, who cried as the emotion of the victory overcame him. “We have our mistakes. We have our downs. But we always come together as one unit, and we get the job done.”
Paint Branch quarterback Gaston Cooper threw for 227 yards and four touchdowns, including three to Javonn Curry, during regulation.
But after Rasheed Gillis opened overtime with a sack of Cooper, cornerback Martin Foray, Curry’s primary defender Friday, broke up three straight passes to hold Paint Branch scoreless.
Including overtime and Paint Branch taking a knee to end regulation, Northwest blanked Paint Branch on its final seven possessions.
Northwest’s offense also pulled together after a haphazard first half.
Playing quarterback, Northwest senior Joshua Gillis ran for a 63-yard touchdown on the first play of the second half. Gills said he knew he could reach the end zone as soon as he read the option play.
“The linebacker flew out, and I was like, ‘It’s time,’” Gills said.
That play was huge in turning momentum from Paint Branch, which fell to 5-1 after winning its first five games by an average score of 42-6.
“We’ve got a good group of kids, of kids that want it,” Paint Branch coach Mike Nesmith said. “But they have to learn. They have to learn how to deal with success, everyone telling you how great you are when you’re winning.”
Nesmith also said the week’s homecoming festivities distracted his team. Northwest took notice, too.
“It feels great to ruin their homecoming,” Gills said.
No. 9 Northwest 31, No. 5 Paint Branch 28 (OT)
Northwest (5-1) 7 0 21 0 3 — 31
Paint Branch (5-1) 7 14 7 0 0 — 28
N — Joshua Gills 21 run (Diego Melendez kick)
PB — Ryan Stango 30 pass from Gaston Cooper (Sam Stewart kick)
PB — Javonn Curry 32 pass from Gaston Cooper (kick failed)
PB — Javonn Curry 29 pass from Gaston Cooper (Javan Grafton from Gaston Cooper)
N — Joshua Gills 63 run (Diego Melendez kick)
PB — Javonn Curry 27 pass from Gaston Cooper (Sam Stewart kick)
N — E.J. Lee 25 run (Diego Melendez kick)
N — Trint Coulter 29 interception return (Diego Melendez kick)
N — Diego Melendez 32 kick
Northwest — Joshua Gills 23-83, E.J. Lee 12-44, Jamar Wilson 4-34, Trint Coulter 1-3, Rasheed Gillis 1-1, Mark Pierce 3-(-3), Kevin Kim 1-(-3).
Paint Branch — Darryl Hill 19-93, Gaston Cooper 18-27, Ryan Stango 1-4, Sam Stewart 1-(-2).
Northwest — Joshua Gills 5-13-54-2, Mark Pierce 2-3-23-0, Jamar Wilson 0-1-0-0.
Paint Branch — Gaston Cooper 18-39-227-1.
Northwest — Matt Wilson 3-32, Trint Coulter 1-18, Jamar Wilson 1-15, Joshua Gills 1-8, E.J. Lee 1-4.
Paint Branch — Javonn Curry 8-122, Ryan Stango 7-65, Javan Grafton 2-29, Kevin Koomson 1-11.