Paint Branch Panthers 14- Sherwood Warriors 13
October 21, 2011
Was Bene’t Willis down? The Paint Branch senior runningback was about four yards short of a first down that that would have given his Panthers (7-1) a 14-7 victory over the Sherwood Warriors (4-3).
As he was tackled, officials ruled he fell on a Sherwood player and the ball was still live, so as Willis set the ball down to the turf at Blazer Stadium at Montgomery Blair High School and tried to return to the huddle, Sherwood’s Fernando Smith scooped up the apparent fumble and scurried 64-yards downfield for a touchdown cutting the Panther lead to 14-13 and presumably sending the unofficial 4A East Title Game into overtime.
But as Panther fans sulked, the Warrior faithful rejoiced and referees conferred, Paint Branch’s Dominic Perciavalle buckled his chinstrap and trotted to his own three yard-line and got in a three-stance for what seemed like a mundane point after attempt. But upon the snap, Perciavalle burst through the right side of the Warrior line and smothered Jake Ryder’s kick before it left the ground preserving Paint Branch’s one-point win and giving them their first division crown in 16 years.
“Every single extra-point or field goal they had I was getting through, I just wasn’t making the play,” Perciavalle said. “That last play I knew I could do it. I came off the second man from the edge and I just laid out and blocked it.”
Sherwood successfully recovered the ensuing onside kickoff, but after another referee conference, officials ruled the ball did not travel 10 yards and Paint Branch took over at midfield. Three David Smith clock-killing knees later and the Panthers had sealed the deal, beating the Warriors for the first time since head coach Mike Nesmith took over in 2007.
“It’s the first title since 1975 at Paint Branch. I was one-year-old. That’s a long time ago,” said Nesmith. “We’ve been close before and this is a huge monkey off our back. The Warriors have had our number ever since I’ve been here so it’s an emotional win not just for me, but for my assistants who have been here long before me.”
Willis (93 yards on 23 carries) and the muscular offensive line led the Panthers to victory on this night. The Warriors stacked nine in the box most of the evening to quell the rushing attack and were largely unsuccessful as Willis continued to run in seven yard chunks. David Smith, meanwhile, was able to pick apart a depleted Sherwood secondary for 100 yards through the air and both of the Panthers’ touchdowns. He was accurate when he needed to be and was protected extremely well. He was hurried only once the entire game when Richie Dipietro hit him from the blindside late in the third quarter.
The Warriors were paced by standout runningback and linebacker Fernando Smith who, in addition to his fumble return, also ran for a touchdown to open the second half and quietly racked up 200 yards rushing even while being plagued by cramps.
The Panthers face the Blair Blazers and Whitman Vikings in what should prove to be docile victories and Paint Branch gears up for a playoff run.
The Warriors remaining games against Northwest and Churchill will both be must-wins after Thursday’s loss knocked them out of playoff contention in the highly competitive 4A North.
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