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Quarterback Desman Johnson helps Penn Wood shake off Springfield

Penn Wood quarterback Desman Johnson avoids a Springfield defender's tackle in the first half. (Pete Bannan/Digital First Media)

YEADON — When Penn Wood lost a fumble on the first snap of the game Friday, coach Ato Troop didn’t toss his clipboard to the ground.

When the Patriots lost a second first-quarter fumble, quarterback Desman Johnson didn’t rip off his chin strap in disgust.

When Penn Wood fell behind early, Kevin Washington didn’t worry.

“We know what we have,” the Patriots’ linebacker said. “They said because all our seniors left, we didn’t have anything. But we actually have a great team this year.”

Penn Wood’s Jordin Jones hauls in a pass in the first half. (Pete Bannan/Digital First Media)

One game into the season, there is every indication the Penn Wood confidence is well placed. Behind 260 passing yards, two touchdown passes, three scoring runs and three two-point conversion passes from the 250-pound Johnson, a 45-yard touchdown reception by Ameen Stevens, a 55-yard scoring run from Jordin Jones and Washington’s 50-yard return of an interception for a TD, the Patriots methodically produced a 42-8 season-opening victory over Springfield at Kerr Field.

It wasn’t pretty early. But it was eye-opening for the final three quarters.

“I wasn’t worried,” Troop said. “I was upset about the mistakes. But every time we had them, we were driving. That was something that didn’t affect us, but that you have to overcome. Those things happen in the game, and they responded well.”

The first snap of the Patriots’ rebuilding season sailed over Johnson’s head, the Cougars’ Jaiden Baiden recovering at the Penn Wood 35. But propelled by omnipresent defensive end Christian Suber and Washington, the senior linebacker, among others, the Penn Wood defense would prove consistently unforgiving.

Later in the quarter, as Johnson tried to make a play from his end zone, the Patriots were flagged for holding, resulting in a safety and a 2-0 Springfield lead.

From there, a strong counter-attack ensued. Johnson would be the reason.

“He had a great season last season,” Troop said. “He prepped hard for this season. He’s back. We’re going to get better. And he’s going to be a big part of it, obviously.”

One play after dragging multiple Cougars six yards to the one, Johnson scored his first TD on a short plunge. His conversion pass to Stevens made it 8-2. When Springfield lost a fumble on the ensuing drive, Johnson made it matter with his long touchdown toss to Stevens, then his short two-point flourish.

Johnson’s three-yard scoring burst and his two-point flip to Michael Booker gave Penn Wood a 24-2 lead in the third. Springfield made a small push to the 50 with its next possession, but that’s when Washington stepped into the passing lane, made an interception and sprinted into the end zone.

“I set myself up by watching Hudl,” Washington said. “I got the ball and took it all the way home. I watched a lot of film for this game. As a football player, you have to watch a lot of film, or you are going to go out there blind.”

The young Cougars scored on senior quarterback Kevin Rechner’s one-yard sneak with 10:37 left, enough time to imagine a rally. But on the next Penn Wood play from scrimmage, Jones blasted 55 yards down the left side for a 36-8 lead.

Johnson provided the final score with an eight-yard run, basically dragging six Cougars along for the trip.

“I just know I have to keep going forward,” said Johnson, who connected with Malik Brooks for 113 of his yards. “It feels good when I am hard to tackle. I just keep moving forward.”

While he runs with strength and authority, Johnson is much more subdued in the pocket. Friday, he completed his first eight passes, often under a strong Springfield rush, trusting his strong arm and quick release to find open receivers.

“I learn to trust my O-linemen,” he said. “I can stay calm back there. I know nobody is coming off my blind side.”

The Patriots lost much to graduation, but will not necessarily sneak up on the Del Val League.

As for Springfield, which is making due with a slim senior class in a season where its stadium is being rebuilt and will need to bus to every game, coach Chris Britton knew there would be some early construction dust.

“I think there were some things we did really well,” Britton said. “The score doesn’t address it, but we had four turnovers in the first half. We got into their backfield a few times, but he (Johnson) is a big, strong kid to bring down. And we couldn’t do it. We have some stuff to work at. I am proud of them. We didn’t give up. We kept working.

“But we have some work ahead of us.”

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