The Panthers and Chargers 14U football teams were both 1-1 entering their Week 3 matchup at Lake Waterford Park on September 7.
It was the visiting Panthers who earned Pasadena bragging rights — and an upper hand in the Anne Arundel Youth Football Association Central Division standings — with a 20-0 win.
A balanced offensive attack and shutout defensive performance powered the more experienced Panthers over the Chargers, the latter of whom are fielding a team in this age group for the first year. The Panthers improved to 2-1 to start a win streak after a Week-1 loss, while the Chargers fell to 1-2.
Panthers head coach Duane Jackson said the neighborhood rivalry added a little extra weight to the game, and the Panthers responded.
“It was the first time we’ve ever played Chargers at our age group,” said Jackson. “[Chargers head coach] Chris [Katzenberger] is a friend. Coming here playing was very exciting. This is a big game for the boys because it is a Pasadena rivalry. I’m just glad they came out and performed the way they’re supposed to and had a great game.”
The Panther wasted little time putting pressure on the host Chargers.
Collin Lewis returned the opening kickoff about 40 yards down the left sideline to give the visitors good starting field position, and Patrick Connolly ran to the outside to get down to the 1-yard line inside the first few minutes.
The Chargers held firm, however, getting a big tackle for a loss by Jeremiah Siscoe and backing the Panthers off the goal line before forcing a turnover on downs.
After the Chargers couldn’t muster any offense on their opening possession, the defense again looked to thwart the Panthers as Shuby Olopade tore through the line of scrimmage for a sack on Panthers quarterback Aaron Rhodes. But the Panthers struck on the next play as Andrew Lloyd broke loose for a 31-yard touchdown run down the left sideline. Rhodes hit Brady Grunder with a pass on the extra point try to make the score 7-0 (extra-point kicks following touchdowns are worth two points at the 14U level).
Lloyd credited his blockers with giving him room to run.
“It feels amazing,” said Lloyd. “The offensive line is amazing. They don’t let anyone get past them. They open up holes real well. So going to whatever hole you need to go to and running downfield is so easy.”
Delray Fowlkes had a long run from the line of scrimmage for the Chargers on their ensuing possession, but the team’s push was eventually stopped by the Panthers for a turnover on downs. Lewis made a nice running gain up the middle to get the Panthers across midfield, and the Panthers thought they had a touchdown when Rhodes lofted a pass to Connolly on the right side, but Connolly bobbled the ball for a regrettable drop.
Two plays later, the Panthers ran the play again, and another perfect throw from Rhodes found Connolly in stride in the flat — this time the speedy receiver made the catch and was gone for a 40-yard touchdown and a 13-0 lead right before halftime.
Connolly didn’t lose confidence after the drop and was grateful his number was called again.
“Once I dropped it I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I actually dropped that. I was wide open,’” Connolly said. “But a couple plays later, coach gave me a second chance. I had amazing blocks, it was an awesome throw by Aaron, and I caught the ball and scored.”
The Panthers squib-kicked to open the third quarter, getting a fortuitous bounce and recovering the ball with a chance to put the Chargers in a deeper hole. The Chargers’ Benson Teater came up with a great sack of Rhodes, however, and the Chargers took over on downs.
Aside from a 15-yard run by Fowlkes, the Chargers couldn’t capitalize, as Connolly made a blitzing backfield tackle and the Chargers returned the ball to the Panthers on downs.
Sisco made another backfield tackle to highlight the Chargers’ next defensive possession and get the ball back again, setting the stage for the Panther defense to respond with one of the game’s highlight plays.
Near midfield, the Chargers threw a pass under pressure into the left flat, but defensive back Ty Guamera was there for the interception.
Guamera took his pick 64 yards to the house, but the touchdown was revoked for a blind-side block during the return. The Panthers nonetheless retained the ball in Chargers territory.
Guamera said he was deliberately positioned on the play, and that the defense collectively played a great game.
“I tried to bait him a little bit,” said Guamera. “He tried to throw it over there, but I moved to the right and picked it, and then I just tried to run as hard as I can…It’s definitely really big to shut out a team. We just need to get everything working, defense, offense special teams, but we did really well today.”
Up 13-0, the Panthers went for the kill. Xander Dodd ran for 15 yards up the middle, Kaleb Richardson carried for seven yards, and Grunder ran up the middle to set up first-and-goal from the 3-yard line. Dodd capped the drive with a touchdown run up the middle, and he added an extra point with another run up the gut to make the score 20-0.
The Panthers put the nail in the coffin with a spectacular leaping interception in the middle of the field by Jackson Wheeler. Rhodes took a knee to end the game.
The team of Lewis, Connolly, Rhodes, Lloyd, Grunder, Guamera, Dodd, Richardson, Wheeler, Talan Behler, Jacob Berry, Chase Bivens, Jake Blanch, Grant Dempsey, Jonas Hendrickson, Tyler Jackson, Nathan Kreuger, Dakota Owens, Ty Schwartz, Richard Smith and Caiden Zacharski has played well to start the season, losing a close game to Harundale (3-0) in Week 1 before consecutive wins against Severn and the Chargers.
With the group playing their final year of youth football, coach Jackson sees ongoing improvement as the primary goal.
“There’s always work to do,” he said. “Every week we try to get better. There’s still a lot of offensive line work to do. Our main goal is getting the boys prepared for the next level. Twenty of these 21 are Chesapeake kids, all eighth grade…We just take it one week at a time and go from there. The ultimate goal is getting them prepared to play for [Chesapeake head coach] Rob [Elliott] at the next level.”
The Chargers, meanwhile, are operating at a disadvantage, having not played together as a cohort before. But Chargers coach Chris Katzenberger made no excuses, citing the team’s cohesion in a Week-1 win over Andover. The Chargers are Siscoe, Olopade, Fowlkes, Teater, Dustin Cross, Isaiah Thomas, DJ Thompson, Logan Fisher, Jayden Moulden, Maurtice Brown, Chris Sanders-Franklyn, Nate Bidell, DJ Jones, Khalil Johnson, Zayne Gray, Jai West, Keohnte Green and Keonjay Venerable.
“Right now we have a group of individuals,” Katzenberger said. “Our main thing is playing for a team, and right now they’re not playing for a team. Until they learn that lesson, in football and in life, they’re just going to be a group of individuals playing. …[Against Andover] they came together. We were down and only had one substitute, and they played their hearts out. They came together at the end and made sure they pushed through. Andover is a good team, and basically it was heart. Other than that, we’ve got to put our nose to the grindstone and work hard.”