Members of the Paint Branch High School football team said they didn’t feel like going on the road for their next game.
After Saturday’s come-from-behind 35-34 victory against No. 7 Gaithersburg at Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda, Paint Branch made sure that it would not have to hop on the school buses for its first playoff game be the because the Panthers claimed the top seed in the Class 4A North Region playoffs with the win, finishing its regular season at 9-1.
“This was a big win for the program to secure the No. 1 seed in the North Region,” said Paint Branch coach Mike Nesmith. “It’s been a long time since Paint Branch has done that. We don’t have to go up the road, some of the teams in our region are far away [in Baltimore County]. So we don’t have to travel, and we make those guys have to come down and see us.”
The matchup between two previously once-beaten teams more than lived up to its billing. Both teams racked up impressive individual and team offensive statistics, but it was one big stop by the Panthers’ defense that finally sealed the victory.
With 1 minute and 58 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, senior quarterback Nick DeCarlo, who had just connected with classmate William Tearney for a 22-yard pass play — attempted to sneak up the middle on fourth and one at the Paint Branch 33. DeCarlo was stopped by the Panthers’ interior line, and the visitors were able to run out the rest of the clock on runs by senior quarterback Gaston Cooper and junior running back Darryl Hill Jr.
“We basically knew what they would do,” Paint Branch linebacker Paul Tinns said. “We knew it was going to be a quarterback sneak. We knew we had to stop it to win. ”
The Panthers’ defensive highlight was the exclamation point to an offensive showcase by both teams. Gaithersburg (8-2) took a 14-0 lead thanks to a 20-yard catch by Tearney and a 6-yard grab by Ariel Martinez. Tearney finished the game with 202 receiving yards on seven catches. Paint Branch would answer with 21 straight points, as senior Javonn Curry connected with fellow upperclassman Gaston Cooper on three scores of 5, 27 and 6 yards. Curry had 12 receptions for 196 yards and four touchdowns. His fourth occurred on a 58-yard play where the Gaithersburg defense was totally fooled and left the 6-foot-3, 180-pounder all by himself downfield. That particular score gave the Panthers a 35-20 lead with 4:19 left in the third quarter.
“I guess the defense just forgot about me,” said Curry with a laugh. “We came out slow today then started to pick it up. I didn’t expect [196 yards receiving], but it came, and I just went along with it and just played my game. I know what I am capable of. I know I can get separation when I am man on man, and we just take our shots. ”
Tearney would catch a 77-yard bomb from DeCarlo on the very next play. The two-point conversion pass from DeCarlo to Isaiah Rainey pulled the Trojans to within 35-28. DeCarlo snuck in from the 1 with 6:36 left in the game to help his team to within a point. Gaithersburg decided to go for the two-point conversion to take the lead, and Martinez was unable to hold onto DeCarlo’s pass as he was heavily covered.
“We beat a good Gaithersburg team right after beating a good Sherwood team,” Nesmith said. “That’s two good wins over two good playoff teams. That gives us confidence and lets the kids know that we are capable of beating the best teams around.
“We lost to Northwest earlier in overtime but we know that was a tough one. We know that we are battle-tested and we aren’t out here playing cupcakes, so we’re excited about our chances [in the postseason].”
DeCarlo (19-34, one interception) had 372 yards passing on the day. Cooper posted 274 yards in the air himself (20 of 34, one interception).
“Just knowing pretty much we are getting No. 1 seed and having everyone in the playoffs having to come through us has a lot of impact on us, ” Cooper said. “It also has a lot of impact on whoever has to come down and play us, and knowing that we are at home in front of our fans and family and alumni feels good.”
Paint Branch 35, Gaithersburg 34
Paint Branch 0-21-14-0—35
G—William Tierney 57 pass from Nick DeCarlo (Joris Bieleu kick)
G—Ariel Martinez 6 pass from Nick DeCarlo (Joris Bieleu kick)
PB—Javonn Curry 5 pass from Gaston Cooper (Sam Stewart kick)
PB—Javonn Curry 27 pass from Gaston Cooper (Sam Stewart kick)
PB—Javonn Curry 6 pass from Gaston Cooper (Sam Stewart kick)
G— William Tierney 20 pass from Nick DeCarlo (kick failed)
PB— Gaston Cooper 9 run (Sam Stewart kick)
PB— Javonn Curry 58 pass from Gaston Cooper (Sam Stewart kick)
G—William Tierney 77 pass from Nick DeCarlo (Nick DeCarlo pass to Isaiah Rainey)
G— Nick DeCarlo 1 run (pass failed)
Paint Branch — Darryl Hill Jr. 12-66; Gaston Cooper 11-36.
Gaithersburg — Zavae Johnson 3-38, Xaviyer Mosley 13-29, Nick DeCarlo 13-22.
Paint Branch — Gaston Cooper 20-32, 274-1.
Springbrook — Nick DeCarlo 19-34, 372-1.
Paint Branch — Javonn Curry 12-196, Kevin Koomson 3-40, Darryl Hill Jr. 3-30, Javan Grafton 1-8.
Gaithersburg — William Tearney 7-202, Isaiah Rainey 5-93, Ariel Martinez 3-61, Dalton Kephart 3-24, Xaviyer Mosley 1- minus 5.