McLean Football takes on West Potomac in Season Opener

Despite loss, McLean finds much to improve on after season debut

Highlanders lose 47-13 to Wolverines

Over the river, through the woods and down I-495 South to West Potomac High School went McLean’s varsity football team to take on the Wolverines in the inaugural contest of the 2022 season. The Highlanders are sporting a modified roster from their previous season, where they finished with a 3-7 record. While many seniors left to graduate, McLean has been able to more than make up for the lost number, boasting a large number of upperclassmen who are putting on the helmet and pads in 2022.

A notable difference for the season opener was at the quarterback position. Due to a variety of reasons, 2021 quarterback Manoli Karageorgos was not playing quarterback against the Wolverines. The primary signal caller for McLean was sophomore Ethan Ball, who had a year of experience as quarterback of the freshman team.

“It’s a great honor and I’m excited to be able to start. Of course there’s always some nerves, especially against a team like West Potomac,” Ball said. “But I’ve played competitive sports my whole life so I’m going to try and overcome the nerves. The new coaching staff has been doing a really good job preparing us [for the game].”

As the brutally hot sun crept behind the trees, McLean sent out their four representatives for the coin flip—senior linebacker Daniel Benitez, senior wide receiver Charlie Samburg, senior lineman Luke Detleff and senior lineman Andrew Mock. The Wolverines won the toss and elected to send away the opening kickoff to the visiting Highlanders. As cleat struck leather and the pigskin soared gracefully through the air, the season was on.

McLean, who played West Potomac to begin their prior season as well, started the game off with a ground-and-pound philosophy, looking to ease their young quarterback into the swing of things by taking some pressure off of his arm. Ball himself, as well as other Highlanders, contributed to a strong early run game. However, the Wolverine defense held strong and the Highlanders turned the ball over on a failed 4th-and-2 conversion attempt.

Although the McLean defense struggled at first against the run, strong tackling—including an excellent wrap-up by senior linebacker Jayden Vargas on second down—kept West Potomac out of the end zone, and a failed fake field goal attempt from the home team held the score knotted at nothing apiece.

Strong field position for the Wolverines, earned as a result of multiple McLean punts, led to the run game of West Potomac capitalizing, with back-to-back touchdowns followed by missed extra points making the score 12-0. After a solid kick return by junior running-back-turned-wide-receiver Kaelan Ferris, Ball unleashed a rope down the home sideline to Ferris for a 67-yard touchdown pass. In his first game as the head honcho of the Highlanders, coach Joe Cockerham got some serious air to shoulder-bump his players on their way back to the sideline.

The score was 12-7 for a fleeting moment, as West Potomac came right back with a 66-yard passing touchdown. A couple failed McLean offensive possessions later and the Wolverines were able to punch in another long rushing touchdown, making the score 26-7. Although McLean experienced a couple highlight reel plays in the second quarter, notably when Vargas—working as a wide receiver, this time—achieved hang time to steal a well-placed pass away from the defense by going over the helmet of the defensive back, the Highlanders still trailed by 19 going into halftime.

West Potomac picked up the pace in the second half, gaining another 6 points on a rushing touchdown. The touchdown almost never happened, as a fumble recovered by the Highlanders on the prior play was overturned due to the runner already being down when the fumble happened. Trailing 33-7, the Highlanders went with a couple of quarterback keeper plays, where carries by Ball turned into significant yardage and first downs for McLean. After abundant confusion on what exactly was happening when the zebras couldn’t quite figure out what call to make, it was determined that the Highlanders’ fourth-down carry was short of the line to gain and the Wolverines would retake possession. They did not waste their time with it. One play, one rush, 71 yards, one touchdown. 40-7, West Potomac.

A 4th down passing attempt by Ball was intercepted, and a near-sack by junior linebacker Easton Johnson turned out to be for naught, as the quarterback somehow managed to get the throw away, which translated to six more big ones for the Wolverines. In at quarterback in a 47-7 ballgame, senior Charlie Samburg provided some spark for the Highlanders, turning a certain sack into a giant gain with a pass to senior Calvin Thinley and bouncing outside for a rushing touchdown in the corner of the locker room to make it 47-13. Although his play was excellent, Samburg was simply too little, too late. As the Wolverines hit the victory formation, the game was decided. McLean lost their season opener, 47-13.

The game was hard fought, but in the end, McLean simply couldn’t overcome issues on both sides of the ball.

“We played a really good team, but I think we learned a lot,” senior defensive back Mateo Short said. “The next problem we have might be easier because [West Potomac] is one of the [better] teams we play this year.”

Now that he’s seen his team experience in-game warfare for the first time, coach Cockerham is already looking ahead to the next week, where the Highlanders will take on the Marshall Statesmen at Marshall High School.

“We’re going to take the loss and we’re going to improve on it,” senior defensive player Max Geduldig said. “We’re going to watch film and we’re going to get ready for the next game. That’s how we handle it.”