They carried things that mattered to them far beyond one game at the Cougar Dome. An appreciation for teachers, a banner dedicating the season to Quince Orchard security officer Mark Harding, who had passed away in August, and a U.S. flag that Marine Lance Corporal Taylor Lemmon brought back from the war front in Afghanistan the night before.
Quince Orchard’s defense adjusted to the physically imposing, athletic offense of Paint Branch, featuring wide receiver, UConn commit Thomas Lucas. The first turnover came with an interception by QO linebacker, Nebraska commit, Marcus Newby, and the QO offense took to the field with quarterback Mike Murtaugh. QO was driving steadily toward the goal line, when Murtaugh completed a pass to wide receiver Matt Choi. After the cheers from the full stands – a sea of red in the fading light – subsided a bit, the athletes knelt because Murtaugh was still on the ground. He was soon escorted, hopping on one leg, to the sidelines, as the crowd chanted his name.
Murtaugh, the skilled junior quarterback who had won his teammates over with his poise, his strong leadership, and all his promise, was suddenly gone in the midst of the first quarter. Another junior, Tobin Pagley, swiftly stepped up to take Murtaugh’s place leading QO’s offense, and it wasn’t long before his 11 yard pass made it to Matt Choi in the end zone. Pagley ran the next two touchdowns in himself. In the second half, Manuel Brown, who suddenly emerged as another powerful running back for QO during last week’s game, made two touchdowns. After 5 touchdowns and 4 extra points added by kicker Jake Barkdoll, the final score was 34 – 0, Quince Orchard.
Paint Branch head coach, Mike Nesmith, who once coached for Quince Orchard, has a clear grasp of what makes QO such a difficult team to contend with. During Spring passing league, he noted that key QO defenders who played for the State Championship were still in place, getting bigger and stronger, and more closely bonded each season. Linebackers Newby and Carlo St. Regis have been side by side for three seasons, and are now joined by 3rd year starters Tyrell Williams and Kieran Gregory. And those were just the players he knew about. One of the main tenets of QO’s success has to do with possessing depth of talent, having a vast array of committed and versatile athletes in so many positions, that they seem to keep driving forward, no matter what may happen to a single player. Or, even if several key players go down, others will take over. A genuine team effort is at work, when the Cougars are at their best. Which is what happened when Quince Orchard met up with Paint Branch.
A special visitor had spoken before the Cougars left their locker room to start their game. Lance Corporal Lemmon, who graduated from Quince Orchard a few years ago, was fresh from the horrors of war he will never be able to shake. Here was a warrior who had put his young life on the line in Afghanistan, forced to deal with loss of those fighting beside him at times. While far away, sacrificing all he had in a realm that is hard for most to imagine, his thoughts were with a high school football team. He came home from the front Thursday night, and made his way to Quince Orchard Friday to present his special flag to Coach Mencarini. The message he wanted to impart to all the young men had to do with being a team. Everyone has each other’s back and you can count on them, despite any adversity.
Final Score Quince Orchard 34 Paint Branch 0
Story by Lisa Levenbach
Photos taken by Lisa Levenbach of the event can be viewed and purchased at