Story by Matt Papuchis; photos by Sebastian Montes
It was a night where unsung heroes needed to step up.
Heading into Friday night's game, Quince Orchard was already playing without arguably its biggest offensive weapon, thanks to Tyrell Williams' injury in the season opener against Sherwood that has forced the Cougars' top running back to miss two straight starts.
But when Mikey Murtaugh went down on the team's opening drive, the Cougar faithful held its collective breath as fans watched their starting quarterback being carried off the field.
How would the county's most accomplished team over the last five years respond?
Both reserve running back Manuel Brown and back-up quarterback Tobin Pagley rushed for two touchdowns apiece and Pagley threw for one more as the host Cougars posted their second consecutive shutout, 34-0, over the previously unbeaten Paint Branch Panthers.
"I'm really proud of my kids," Quince Orchard coach Dave Mencarini said after the game. "We've had some key guys go down the last couple weeks and they've responded nicely."
Following Murtaugh's injury, Pagely came in and despite a shaky start -- a muffed hand-off resulting in a fumble on his first possession -- he managed the offense effectively all night.
On his second possession, Pagely connected with wide-out Matt Choi for an 11-yard touchdown pass. Later in the half, Pagely scored from 1-yard out on a quarterback keeper to give the Cougars a 14-0 lead at the half.
Afterwards, the junior quarterback reflected on the moment.
"At first I was a little nervous. But all my teammates rallied behind me and gave me the confidence to get the job done," Pagely said. "I will never forget this night for the rest of my life."
Meanwhile, due to another key injury on offense for the Cougars (running back Keano Wilder went down with what Mencarini described as 'turf toe') Brown was there to carry the load in the second half. Brown, who didn't carry the ball the entire first half, scored two touchdowns in the second half and pounded his way to 122 yards off 21 carries to help seal the Cougars’ win.
"I needed to step up tonight and help my team,” Brown said. “We all needed to step in tonight and take care of each other and that’s what we did.”
While it was Quince Orchard's offense that was the focus, in part due to the numerous injuries on that side of the ball, it was the Cougars' defense that made the real difference Friday night. Paint Branch only totaled one first down in the second half and never truly threatened to score all night. The Panthers only crossed into Cougar territory once after the first quarter.
Led by senior linebacker Marcus Newby, who had nine tackles in the win and a recovered fumble, Quince Orchard shut down the Panthers’ two biggest threats all night -- quarterback Gaston Cooper, who only passed for 68 yards and receiver Thomas Lucas, who was limited to just 32 yards receiving.
"Paint Branch is a great team with great players," Newby said. "We just practiced and worked hard for this all week and came out ready to play."
Defensive Coordinator John Kelley added: "The kids had a great week of practice, focusing on what they've got to do. We've got a real solid nucleus of guys on defense who really want it and work hard."
For Paint Branch, it's not time to panic, head coach Mike Nesmith said after the game. Instead, it's time to reinforce with his players the importance of consistency and focusing on the details.
"We have to learn from this," said Nesmith, who served as the Cougars' offensive coordinator under Mencarini from 2004-2006. "We need to reinforce the details in practice this week. A dropped pass, a false start here and there in practice -- those things all add up. And so we have to focus on correcting those things in practice. You play how you practice."
As far as where the Cougars go from here with Murtaugh's injury, Mencarini wouldn't speculate what the team will do without him, but called the quarterback's injury "serious." For now, he is just concerned about ensuring Pagely is ready to take over the reigns if need be for good.
"Our goal when Mikey went down was to make Tobin feel as though he could do anything," Mencarini said.
Pagely finished 5-for-5 with 33 yards while D’Andre Johnson added to Brown’s efforts with 81 yards on 11 carries.