McLean football falls to Marshall, remains winless to start the season


Tanner Coerr

Highlander Team captain Calvin Thinley sprints onto the field, waving the school flag.

Final score: 46-14

The McLean Highlanders varsity squad took the field for their game against the Marshall Statesmen where they looked to pick up the pieces left by the prior week’s 30-0 thrashing at the hands of the West Potomac Wolverines.
“We all were pretty upset with the outcome of the game,” said starting quarterback Manoli Karageorgos. “We’re preparing so that we don’t ever have to feel that way again.”
A combination of weak offensive play, an exhausted defense and subpar special teams play led to the previous game’s outcome.
The Statesmen trotted onto the field in baby blue uniforms, while McLean opted for a blackout uniform scheme. Both teams began their pregame practicing, with footballs becoming silhouettes against the bright blue sky in every direction. Cheerleaders and fans began trickling onto the field from both sides of Basil Harless stadium as the clock ticked closer to gametime.
Unlike the Highlanders, Marshall entered the contest with a 1-0 record, having defeated Washington & Liberty 13-0 a week earlier. Marshall was fighting for an undefeated start to the season, McLean was fighting to get in the win column.The game started with a couple of strong plays by Nicholas Halteh, who was the star of the previous game. After a failed QB scramble left the Highlanders with a 4th and 3, they chose to do what they had done multiple times the previous week and go for it. Unlike in the West Potomac game, however, the play was a gigantic success as sophomore running back Kaelan Ferris took a run play 48 yards for a touchdown. The stadium exploded, and Ferris was mobbed by his teammates. The enthusiasm in the crowd was the highest it had been all year, with the fans rejoicing louder than ever.
Fans stopped rejoicing one play later. McLean’s special teams struggles continued, as the kickoff was returned at nearly the length of the field. Two plays later, Marshall’s run-heavy offense stung the Highlanders, with running back Nakia Wilson taking it in from about 15 deep.
The game seemed poised to be a shootout, but the defenses on both sides would soon make strong plays. On McLean’s next drive, a beautiful third down pass by Karageorgos went in and out of the hands of captain Calvin Thinley. The Statesmen received the ball again, only for Wilson to fumble it shortly after what could have been a productive run. Kaelan Ferris was there to recover the fumble, making his presence felt on both sides of the ball.
Hoping to use the strong field position to his advantage, Karageorgos lofted a deep pass to junior Quinn Sullivan. Despite not coming down with the ball, the officials called a penalty on the defense for pass interference. The call was one of the easiest they would make all afternoon. The ball was placed near the red zone, but the drive fizzled out by way of a heavy blitz which led to a sack on fourth down.

Senior Adam Lingeman helps his teammates in a battle for yardage. (Tanner Coerr)

The coaching staff started the game with a more aggressive approach, going for it on fourth down more often as well as focusing on a heavier air attack, with Karageorgos showing off his huge arm.
Ball security, which had been the principal issue for McLean against the Wolverines, became a problem for Marshall, as their drive following the midfield fumble ended the same way, only this time it occurred when they were threatening to score—the ball was recovered in the end zone, giving the Highlanders the ball back at their own 20. They did not squander this drive, though. Halteh took a short pass and broke a tackle, not looking back en route to the Highlanders’ second touchdown of the day.
Even with a Pitbull concert stealing dozens of viewers from the stands, the Highlander faithful were rocking as the first quarter came to a close. Red, white, and blue fluctuated as the stands reverberated with cheers from the Red Sea.
Marshall refused to let their fumbles stop them from running the football, as Wilson continually moved the chains with runs that were both bullish and evasive. The coaching staff in white and blue had an obvious gameplan, yet the front seven defenders of the Highlanders found themselves powerless to stop him. Wilson continued his dominance with a touchdown run to even the game at 14.
Halteh made a couple of strong plays for the Highlanders before an attempted connection to Quinn Sullivan was intercepted by the opposition, giving the Statesmen the ball back with plenty of time before halftime. Marshall had elected to kick the ball off at the beginning of the game after winning the coin toss, meaning they had an opportunity to go up two scores on the Highlanders after halftime.
Unlike previous editions of the Marshall running attack, Wilson and his platoon did most of their damage by runs to the outside. McLean’s defensive scheme often had their front seven bunched up towards the center of the line, which led to openings on the outside when the Highlander defensive backs were far upfield to defend against a potential pass. In order to beat the Statesmen, Scholla and his crew would have to adjust.
The guys in white turned the interception into a touchdown, this one coming by way of a one-yard touchdown pass by quarterback Jeff Ryder. In a shift of gears, McLean’s special teams came up big with a block on the extra point attempt, keeping the deficit at 6.
Hoping to keep the game close, McLean marched down the field as the clock ticked under two minutes until halftime. Karageorgos showed that he could make plays with his legs as well as his arms, scrambling from a collapsed pocket on 3rd and 10 to get a first down. His elusiveness in the pocket was leading the home offense to their best drive of the young season—a well-coached two-minute drill where they had little time to go a long way. They were on the doorstep of tying the game at 20 when a blind side rush stripped the ball from Karageorgos. The loose ball was recovered by the defense, and McLean walked into the locker room at halftime with a subdued attitude, knowing that they were going to be defending at the start of the second half.
As the clock started to run on the final 30 minutes of the game, possession flipped multiple times, as each defense had become more adjusted to their opposing offensive attack. Halteh became a focus of the defense, and his big play ability remained mostly under lock. Wilson’s rushes were locked down.
McLean had their first offensive possession of the second half halted near the 40 yard line, and the ensuing drive was a constant pounding of the rock that was capped off with yet another rushing touchdown by Nakia Wilson. The point after rang off of the bottom crossbar, no good. 26-14 was the score as the clock ticked under five minutes to go in the third quarter.
Offensive schemes changed for the Highlanders, incorporating more motion before the snap as well as designed rollouts by McLean’s young QB. A slant route to Halteh ended in disaster, as the young stud stayed down after the play ended. Shaken up, he eventually made his way to the sideline to be evaluated by the medical staff. Highlander nation held their breath.
Time ran low in the third quarter, as the offense shifted their focus to a far more pass-focused scheme. Karageorgos, performing at a far higher level than he had been the week before, was now making plays happen however he could, often through broken plays where the defensive pressure was getting to him. He was also relieved to see his trusted receiver re-enter the game, having passed the evaluations. The drive, strong to the point, ended in a booming punt by Tyler Fontenot, and the defense was once again given a heavy load to carry.
Unable to stop Nakia Wilson’s rushes, the Highlanders relinquished another touchdown and the Statesmen broke the thirty point threshold. Immediately after that, McLean gave the ball back by way of a turnover on downs. The floodgates opened after that, as quarterback Jeff Ryder showed off his strong arm with a deep touchdown pass to increase their lead to 25.
The Highlanders who came out to support their team seemed defeated, as the ragtag group of supporters on the visiting side of the field outshone their cheers by a large amount.
The game, at this point, was lost. Screen passes, deep throws, runs up the middle—none of them were resulting in success for the struggling offense. Halteh did not let the deficit stop him from showing his skill, making multiple strong plays for large chunks of yardage. His efforts proved to be for naught, as the scoreboard still displayed “14” for the Highlanders.
Run defense was the story of the game for the McLean team and it persisted until the end of the game, as the defense–exhausted by now–yielded one more rushing touchdown. The final score was 46-14, a brutal disappointment for a McLean squad that was hoping for a rebound.
The game, despite featuring a larger margin of defeat than the shutout versus West Potomac, showed a lot of promise from the team. Pass defense was strong, with multiple deep throws nearly being intercepted. Ferris and Halteh continually showed their ability to make big plays happen, and Manoli Karageorgos grew a lot as a quarterback in a short period of time.
McLean faces Thomas Edison High School next Friday, hoping to gain some confidence and put a number in the win column. They’ve got a ways to go, and the only way is up.