Leading 21-7, West Potomac quarterback Nik Dimitrijevic looked to his right and fired a pass midway through the second quarter of the Wolverines’ season opener against rival Mount Vernon. Majors defensive back Emmanuel Tackie, who earlier had been moved from safety to cornerback, read the play and broke in front of the intended receiver. Tackie intercepted the pass in front of the Mount Vernon bench and returned it 38 yards for a touchdown, sending the Majors and their coaches into a frenzy.
While Tackie’s pick-six pulled the Majors within a touchdown, the play also gave the Mount Vernon football program a feeling that was foreign for most of the 2009 season.
"We haven’t felt like that in over a year," Mount Vernon senior lineman Logan Beougher said. "That was big."
Mount Vernon finished 0-10 in 2009 and was outscored 365-129, including a 42-3 loss to West Potomac in the season opener. Barry Wells replaced Tom Glynn as head coach and the Majors entered 2010 looking to rebuild a program that won a state championship in 1983, and totaled nine victories in a season as recently as 2008. Less than two full quarters into the process, Tackie had the Majors thinking they could win.
BUT ONCE Mount Vernon’s emotional high wore off, West Potomac showed the Majors rebuilding projects don’t happen overnight.
The Wolverines outscored the Majors 34-6 over the final two-and-a-half quarters en route to a 55-20 victory on Sept. 2 at MVHS. A 3-yard touchdown run by Brandon Johnson gave West Potomac a 28-14 halftime lead. On the second play of the third quarter, Rontrell Peyton intercepted a pass from Mount Vernon quarterback Robert Decardi-Nelson and returned it 25 yards for a touchdown to blow the game open.
West Potomac head coach Eric Henderson said he told his players not to get down when Mount Vernon battled back from a 21-0 deficit to make the game interesting.
"It was 28-14 at that point and I just told the kids, ‘Calm down, we’ll get back into it, it’s not a big deal,’" Henderson said. "Then Rontrell Peyton gets one right [at the start of] the second half and I thought that set the tone for us. We needed that."
West Potomac’s no-huddle spread offense was dominant at times, amassing 432 total yards. Dimitrijevic, a senior, completed 18 of 33 passes for 298 yards and three touchdowns. He was intercepted three times. Dimitrijevic saw time during his junior year, but enters his first season as the full-time starter.
"It puts a little bit more pressure [on you] because you’re the guy," he said. "It’s not like you’re coming in with no expectations. I welcome the expectations. You get better from adversity."
West Potomac receiver Jalen Dawson caught seven passes for 134 yards and Daryl Copeland finished with eight receptions for 109 yards and two touchdowns. Johnson carried 14 times for 106 yards and three scores.
While the numbers were impressive for West Potomac, the Wolverines know there’s more work to be done. After West Potomac beat Mount Vernon by 39 to open the 2009 season, the Wolverines dropped eight of their next nine games to finish 2-8.
"Obviously, we’re going to need more growth," Henderson said. "This is not the end point for the season. This has got to build into something better than this. Nothing against Mount Vernon, I’m not saying that. Really, the issue is that this is more about ourselves and trying to improve as a team."
MEANWHILE, WELLS, who started coaching in 1988 and had jobs as an assistant in Virginia, Pennsylvania and New Jersey before landing his first head coaching job at Mount Vernon, said he expected better.
"I was so much more optimistic than the score showed," he said. "I felt like we had a game plan in place [and] when the kids were executing, we made the plays we thought we would make. Again, there’s a culture change that has to take place that can’t take place overnight. Winning is an attitude and, quite frankly, this group of kids hasn’t done much of it. We’ve got a series of things to work through."
Overcoming the losing culture, Wells said, goes beyond performance on the field.
"The [postgame] talk I gave the kids was pretty straight forward," Wells said. "There were some things I just really did not like. I can’t handle the walking off the field; I can’t handle the head dragging. We’re going to have adversity all year long; things are not going to go our way. The key to a good team is being able to shake that off."
Decardi-Nelson, a sophomore who transitioned from lineman to quarterback as a freshman, completed 7 of 26 passes for 176 yards and one touchdown for the Majors. He also threw one interception. Wells spoke highly of the 5-foot-10, 175-pound passer’s potential, but added the coaching staff will have a decision to make on how much to play the young signal caller.
"Robert, I think he’s got the tools," Wells said. "He’s got a live arm. His youth comes shining through from time to time — he holds onto the ball instead of throwing it away [and] he took some big sacks. He’s kind of done that all summer long. Part of it is making the decision do we continue to try to groom him and take our lumps and then bring him along? We’re going to continue to look at that. If we feel like he’s starting to make progress, then we’re going to stick with him and give him a shot.
"The one thing I don’t want him to feel like is because he had a bad game that he’s going to get yanked. We don’t want him playing like he’s got to look over his shoulder. We’re not going to jump ship on him. We’re going to continue to coach him."
Mount Vernon running back Sadiq Odeyele carried six times for 18 yards and one touchdown. Wide receiver Dillon Alexander caught one pass for 89 yards and a touchdown.
Defensively, Zak Balde led Mount Vernon with seven tackles and Julien Randolph and Emmanuel Acheampong each had an interception for the Majors.
West Potomac will host Westfield at 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 10. Mount Vernon will travel to face T.C. Williams at 2:30 p.m. on Sept. 11.
The Majors didn’t get the win they were looking for in their opener, but they might have taken a step in the right direction.
"Instead of a goose egg, we had 20 on the board tonight," Beougher said. "That’s definitely saying something."