Sports aren’t just about playing heavy-handed — they’re also about playing with a heavy heart.
After the tragic passing of 17-year-old Northwest High School student Josh Snyder just two days earlier, the Jaguars varsity football team headed to Potomac Friday night to play the Winston Churchill Bulldogs and play their hearts out in memory of Josh.
“It was a very hard week,” Northwest head coach Mike Neubeiser said. “It’s tough for us to deal with. I care about Josh a lot, and I told them to play for Josh. He’s looking down on us right now.”
The Jaguars (5-1) would prevail 40-28 over the previously-undefeated Bulldogs (5-1), but the win meant a lot more than any other to Josh’s former JV teammates and classmates that took the field.
“I just told them to stay focused and just know that he’s with us,” Neubeiser said. “We didn’t want to talk about it too much. It’s hard to talk about, obviously, but we just did it for him tonight.”
Churchill’s offense, which had put up 42 or more points in each of its previous four games, started slowly, going three-and-out on the game’s opening drive after a third-down sack by senior linebacker Rha Overstreet.
The Jaguars, on the other hand, were hot out of the gate as senior quarterback Jack Anders connected with senior wide receiver A.J. Woods for a 77-yard catch-and-run touchdown on their first play from scrimmage.
The Bulldogs’ offense began to find its footing on the second drive, with senior quarterback Michael Janis and senior running back Patrick Richardson leading the charge. Richardson would march into the end zone off a 12-yard run to even the score at 7-7 with three and a half minutes left in the quarter.
Northwest looked to respond quickly as a 20-yard screen pass from Anders to junior wide receiver Isiah Williams took them down to the Churchill 35-yard line. Two plays later, Anders was intercepted by senior defensive back Darius Reed who returned it to Churchill’s 38-yard line.
The first quarter ended with a pair of Jaguars sacks, with both senior defensive back Ardo Ba and senior defensive end DeAndre Jules taking Janis down in the backfield.
A short punt to the Churchill 45-yard line gave Northwest excellent field position to start the second quarter. Strong runs by junior running back Ajahni Terry helped bring the ball down to the 9-yard line, which led to a short touchdown pass from Anders to Isiah Williams and a 14-7 lead with nine minutes left in the half.
The Bulldogs were held to another three-and-out, and another short punt set up the Jaguars offense in Bulldogs territory for the second straight possession. Anders and Woods made short work of the defense a second time, connecting on the first play of the drive for a 39-yard score.
Northwest’s defense forced its first takeaway of the game on Churchill’s second play of the drive when Jules forced a fumble on a Janis sack, which senior defensive end Jaylin Blue returned 39 yards for a touchdown and a 28-7 lead for Northwest with six and a half minutes to go in the half.
Richardson and Janis put together multiple big runs on Churchill’s next drive, eventually capping it off with a two-yard Richardson touchdown run to narrow the gap to 28-14.
The Bulldogs defense finally forced its first punt with two and a half minutes left in the half, and took over on offense at their own 20-yard line.
A quick drive that saw more elusive runs from Janis and solid gains through the air to Richardson and junior wide receiver Gabriel Moore brought the Bulldogs down to the Jaguars’ 5-yard line, where Janis found Moore for a touchdown to close out the first half.
“I think in the first half we got caught trying to do too many things,” Neubeiser said. “We just didn’t do our job.”
Northwest began the third quarter with a turnover on downs in Churchill territory after failing to convert a fourth-and-3. Churchill didn’t hesitate to capitalize, as Janis would eventually run for an 11-yard touchdown to tie things at 28-28 with four minutes to play in the quarter.
Several penalties hampered the Jaguars’ next drive, including one that brought back what would have been a 53-yard touchdown pass from Anders to senior wide receiver Andrew Howard, forcing them to punt.
Northwest’s special teams made up for the offensive shortcomings, though, as that punt was downed all the way at the Churchill 8-yard line. The defense held the Churchill offense to a three-and-out to close out the third quarter.
The Jaguars had another potential score called back by penalties to start the fourth quarter as junior Marcus Berry’s go-ahead punt return touchdown was brought back to the Bulldogs’ 49-yard line.
Northwest had another opportunity to retake the lead with seven and a half minutes left in regulation, but a short field goal attempt ended up hitting the left upright and missed.
Another Churchill three-and-out and a blocked short punt gave Northwest the ball in Churchill territory once again, and a 33-yard scamper by Howard to the end zone put Northwest back in front 34-28 after their third one-play scoring drive of the game.
The Jaguars defense stopped Janis and the Bulldogs offense yet again, giving their own offense a chance to put the game out of reach. It only took three plays on the offense’s next drive to do just that, as Anders found Howard for a 45-yard touchdown pass to give the Jaguars a 40-28 lead.
Churchill made its final push with three minutes left in the game, driving from its own 28-yard line to the Northwest 35, but the Northwest defense came up big again and forced a turnover on downs with a minute and a half to go to seal the win.
“We tried to make sure that Janis didn’t run as much and tried to keep him contained, but the biggest thing was stopping the run,” Neubeiser said. “We had to be able to stop the run, and they were doing a good job of getting our guys to doubt whatever their job [was].”
Northwest looks to build on its momentum next week as the team travels to play Richard Montgomery (4-2), a team currently riding a four-game win streak. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:00 pm in Rockville on Oct. 14. The Rockets are coming off a 42-7 drubbing of Whitman.
Top: The Jags clashed with the Churchill Bulldogs on Friday night. Northwest won 40-28. The Bulldogs were unbeaten this season prior to Friday’s game with Northwest.
Next: Northwest players and students showed support for their classmate, senior Josh Snyder who was killed in traffic accident earlier that week.
Next: Jack Anders connected with senior wide receiver A.J. Woods (1) for a 77-yard catch-and-run touchdown on their first play from scrimmage.
Next: Jags junior running back Ajahni Terry (5).
Next: Northwest senior defensive end Jaylin Blue (44) returned a fumble recovery 39 yards for a touchdown and a 28-7 lead for Northwest.
Next: Northwest’s quarterback Jack Anders (8).
Photos by Germantown Pulse