McLean Football loses season opener to West Potomac

Highlanders have devastating loss in first game of the season

The McLean Highlanders varsity football team took the field for the first time in the 2021-22 season, preparing for a tough battle against West Potomac High. Unfortunately, the game ended in defeat for the Highlanders, with a devastating 30-0 blaring on scoreboards by time the referees ended the game.
The energy in Basil Harless stadium was so thick you could cut it with a butter knife. The West Potomac Wolverines entered to a chorus of boos from the Highlander side, polar opposites from the crazed reaction given to the Highlanders as they rushed onto the field, flag waving. McLean captains Sam Snyder, Manoli Karageorgos, Calvin Thinley and Jacob King walked out to the logo to field the coin toss, which they won and used to receive the ball first. West Potomac kicker Noah Christenson booted the ball into the evening sky, and the game–and season–had begun.
Despite the high energy reverberating around the stadium, the Highlanders’s season started rather unceremoniously. Two short runs and a dropped third down pass led to a three-and-out on the first drive of the season, and a short punt saw the Wolverines capitalize on great field position, with quarterback Owen Joachim throwing a deep touchdown pass early in the first quarter. Another three-and-out possession gave West Potomac the football with a little bit over seven minutes remaining in the first quarter.
McLean’s third drive started on a far more auspicious note than their previous two, with a completion to senior wide receiver Nicholas Halteh and multiple solid runs by sophomore Kaelan Ferris giving the offense some life. The excitement proved short-lived, as a blind side demolition on Karageorgos caused a fumble, giving the ball away near the goal line. The defense managed to hold strong, holding the opposition to only three points. By the end of the first quarter, the Highlanders trailed 10-0.
Nicholas Halteh’s electric speed started the first quarter off strong, taking a direct snap more than 20 yards to convert on 3rd and 12, also drawing a personal foul by the defender who brought him down, making the play a gain of more than thirty yards. The big play was much needed, as the McLean crowd was in a deep lull with little to stand up for.
McLean’s offensive line was struggling heavily throughout the first half, letting the rushers from West Potomac’s defensive line through on what felt like every play. That is not conducive to success, as Karageorgos rushed to get the ball out on many occasions, leading to a lot of dropped passes and sacks.
McLean’s Halteh made his presence noted with eight minutes remaining in the first half, as he took a punt return to the opposing 40-yard line. The speedy return was a futile effort though, as a block in the back penalty brought back all of the progress from the return. At this point in the game, the McLean formula was simple: give the ball to Halteh and let him make something happen with his incredible speed.
As the sun began to set on the newly renovated field, the Highlanders were searching for some life, as the scoreboard at the end of the field flashed a fat goose egg for McLean’s score.The Highlander defense, which had shown a strong performance so far, kept them where they were, and the Highlanders received the ball again with no points given up.
West Potomac quarterback Owen Joachim was consistently missing his marks, with throws sailing out of bounds and through the hands of his receivers on many occasions. The opposition’s poor offensive play was desperately needed by a reeling McLean team, and they tried their hardest to capitalize on it.
The game resembled an olympic caliber ping-pong game, with the ball switching sides of the field seemingly every minute. After early offensive success from West Potomac, the game turned into a defensive showdown. Both quarterbacks struggled for any ground to gain, and running backs became the focal point of both offenses. The game grinded to a near halt, with both teams searching for a big play that would light a fire under their team. By halftime, the score remained the same as it was early in the first quarter, with McLean looking at an uphill battle against a 10 point deficit.

The Highlander faithful come to support their varsity football team. (McLean Athletics)

The Highlanders then took the field hoping to claw back from the hole they were in. The coaching staff rallied their troops, hoping to start the comeback from within. The enthusiasm was short-lived, as Fontenot’s kick was returned the full nine(-ty seven) yards for a touchdown to open the second half, pushing the Highlanders seven points deeper into a hole.
Ball security, which had been a crucial issue for the Highlanders to that point, was once again a problem, as the subsequent drive saw a misplayed handoff lead to the Wolverines gaining possession. Not to be outdone, the defense took a stand and kept them from adding any points to the scoreboard.
The drive was the longest from the home team all game, with a multitude of strong rushes from Ferris. Anticlimactic moments were the theme of the Highlanders for the entire night, and the trend continued, as the longest drive of the day ended in an interception on 4th and 8 from inside the Wolverines’ territory. The defense, nearing full exhaustion, allowed the other team to continually rip off large chunks of yardage, which came in a multitude of ways–screen passes, checkdowns, and running plays alike. Middle linebacker Wyatt Johnson kept running at full steam, making multiple huge tackles on the drive to save touchdowns. The crowd cheered “I believe that we will win,” but they didn’t seem to believe it themselves.
West Potomac was threatening to score towards the end of the third, but they could not get a play off, and a disheartened Highlanders squad trotted off the field as time ran out on the third quarter. Hope was at the lowest it had been all night–how could a team which had scored zero points through 36 minutes come back from 17 points down in the final 12?
17 points quickly turned into 24. Every positive action from the offense had an equal and opposite reaction. Positive yardage was either negated due to a penalty flag or became irrelevant when the offense stalled out soon after. As the game ran short on time, Joachim converted on a long pass for a touchdown on 4th and 11, making the score a 30 point difference.
Eventually, multiple powerful strikes of lightning in the area were close enough for the referees to decide the game must end.
The game ended in utter disappointment for McLean, a 30-0 stomping at the hands of the Wolverines and their coaching staff. Hard to see as it may be, there is still much to be excited for from this young team. The varsity squad only returned two starters from last year’s team, Sam Snyder and Nicholas Halteh. Young QB Manoli Karageorgos has the potential to anchor the core of the team, made up of a lot of sophomores and juniors, for years to come. Halteh showed his ability to make big plays happen. The defense showed their ability to stand strong in the face of adversity. The team has a long way to go, sure–but who’s to say they won’t get there quickly?
The next football game is on September 2. The Highlanders will look to rebound at home against the Statesmen of Marshall High School. Film will be studied, plays will be refined, connections will be made–and next week, the Highlanders could come out stronger than ever.

“It was a tough loss,” said sophomore tight end Vaughn McCollough, “but we are going to work our butts off this week in practice and beat Marshall next week.”