The Washington Post

Cougars see much room to improve



Soon after he took over Quince Orchard’s football program in March 2014, Coach John Kelley found a method to incorporat­e balance in his life. When he was in his office at the Gaithersbu­rg school, Kelley could fret over his squad’s miscues. When he returned home to his wife and three kids, Kelley tried to put those worries aside until the next morning.

But the coronaviru­s pandemic disrupted that structure when it closed schools 18 months ago. Kelley was stuck in his home, and with the Cougars’ undefeated season ending in the Maryland 4A semifinals four months earlier, Kelley struggled to clear football from his mind.

“We’ve been asking ourselves that question for almost two years: Why did this happen, and how can we fix it?” Kelley said.

Finally, Kelley and the No. 7 Cougars are addressing those concerns in pursuit of a state title. Quince Orchard has won its first two games, including a 20-13 home victory over Paint Branch on Friday night. For the Cougars to accomplish their goal, though, a lot needs to change between Friday and December, Kelley said.

In 2019, Quince Orchard seemed primed for another championsh­ip run after winning 10 of its first 12 games by 34 or more points. Then rival Northwest exploited the Cougars’ run defense in its state semifinal victory in November.

“2019 didn’t end the way we wanted it to, but a lot of times I always think to myself, ‘Man, there’s only four teams in the whole state of Maryland that end the season on a positive note,’ ” Kelley said. “The other 185 schools are thinking, ‘Dang, what could I have done differentl­y?’ If you’re not asking yourself those questions, you’re not ever going to be good.”

In Montgomery County’s twoseason spring campaign, Quince Orchard won both its games without allowing a point. A few days after the Cougars resumed practice Aug. 11, Quince Orchard endured a coronaviru­s outbreak. Twenty-six people at the school tested positive, including multiple members of the football team.

Because of the outbreak, Quince Orchard canceled its two preseason scrimmages. After beating Whitman, 58-0, last week, the Cougars took a 14-0 lead three minutes into Friday’s game against Paint Branch (1-1) but struggled to finish drives and stop the run the remainder of the night. On Paint Branch’s final drive, though, Quince Orchard defensive lineman Christian Ose-afiana sacked the Panthers’ quarterbac­k.

“When it came down to it, we got it done,” Kelley told his players postgame. “That’s all that matters. But there’s a lot of things we can fix off this film.”

He continued to speak for another minute until he left his players with a final message: “Again, enjoy the victory tonight, but there’s a lot of stuff we need to fix.”

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