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Whitman football makes history, wins first home playoff game since 1976

Nearly+46+years+in+the+making%2C+the+Vikings%E2%80%99+varsity+football+team+has+finally+achieved+a+home+playoff+win.+
Heidi Thalman
Nearly 46 years in the making, the Vikings’ varsity football team has finally achieved a home playoff win.

It was a surreal scene. Varsity football coach Sean Pierce ran up the sidelines, pumping his arms up and down as the team excitedly danced on the field. The Whitman faithful gathered along the railing of the bleachers, hoping to rush the field. Despite the below freezing temperature, the student section was ecstatic as they realized they were witnessing something that hadn’t happened in over four decades. The clock hit zero, and it was time for celebration. 

Nearly 46 years in the making, the Vikings’ varsity football team had finally achieved a home playoff win. 

The path to this victory was long and arduous. Three years ago, the Vikings’ season ended with zero wins. The next season, they had a record of 0-9. And last season, they went 0-11. But this season has been all about breaking these losing streaks. The team won their first game, won their first playoff game and have finally secured a home playoff win. 

So what’s changed and how has the football team improved so much in the span of just one short season?

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Enter head coach Sean Pierce.

Pierce was hired by Whitman officials on February 3, 2022, taking over for former varsity football head coach Dave Fyock. Before coming to Whitman, Pierce was first the junior varsity head coach at Richard Montgomery High School, and then the offensive coordinator at Gaithersburgh High School. 

Pierce credits his father, “Coach OG,”  for helping him strengthen the football team, he said.

My father’s the biggest influence in my life,” Pierce said. “I knew once my playing career was over, I would enter coaching. I love to teach, and I believe that football is the best way to teach young men how to be men.”

Whitman hosted the Springbrook Blue Devils on Thursday night, going into the game with a 4-4 regular season record. The game started slow for both teams, but the momentum swung in Whitman’s favor when junior Nate Sullivan recorded a pick-six during the first quarter, giving the Vikes an early 10-0 lead. A couple more defensive stops from the Vikings helped them secure a large lead. Before halftime, the offense put together their best drive of the night, which ended with quarterback Connor Werkman rushing in the endzone, increasing the lead to 17-0.

The Whitman defense continued to apply pressure through the A-gaps — the space between the center and guard on the offensive line — and on the edge, causing the Blue Devils’ quarterback to rush his throws and make poor decisions. 

Along with some well-timed blitzing, it was an encouraging sign to see Whitman have answers for the designed quarterback run game. Two weeks ago, Whitman had trouble containing the BCC Barons, who ran a similar offense. However, this time around, the pressure and cover zero defense limited the Springbrook offense to just six points. The Blue Devils tried to expose the Vikes through gap-read concepts and counter-read run plays — offensive schemes designed to confuse the defense — but the Vikes did a good job of shutting down those attempts and baiting the Springbrook quarterback. If Whitman can continue to dominate on the defensive side of the ball, they’ll have a strong chance next week against Blake.

Senior captain Chand Amerasinghe was proud of the team’s win, and believes the future of Whitman football is only on the rise.

“Great win for the guys, our defense set the tone and our offense came through,” Amerasinghe said. “It means a lot to be a leader on a team that is making history for the program.”

With high school football taking up 10-12 months of the year, head coaches need a resilient coaching staff to help with player recruitment, training camp practices and everything in between. The preparation for Blake has already begun, as the coaching staff gets together shortly after each game to prepare a plan for the next one. 

The coaching job is a large time commitment, but Pierce has always loved football. He began learning the intricacies of the game at a young age, and as early as high school, Pierce would watch videos and help his dad plan for the youth games he coached. The young teenager would spend hours watching college and NFL football, learning sophisticated coaching tactics in the process, he said.

“I learned how to break down film at 14 years old,” Pierce said. “I learned how to recognize schemes, draw play designs, even something as simple as counting the box I learned at a young age.”

Members of the team respect and admire their head coach. Junior defensive back Derrick Goodman loves seeing Pierce, who the team nicknamed “Mo,” both on the field and in the hallways of Whitman, he said. 

“From the second Coach Mo stepped in the building almost two years ago, I could tell he was the key to turning the program around from the first second I met him,” Goodman said. “He always motivates us and strives for us to be the best person we can be. Not only on the field but off the field as well.”

This year has been especially challenging, with uncertainty surrounding the game’s most important position — the quarterback. The varsity football team didn’t have a quarterback when the school year ended in June, but has now found one in Werkman. It took many long days at the school during the summer combined with intense film sessions, but the junior has been looking sharp. The stats don’t lie either; Whitman is on track to score the most points in a single season in five years. 

After years of sub-par Whitman football, Pierce, his father and the rest of the coaching staff have begun the hard work of changing the culture surrounding Vikings football for the better.

“Football means everything to me; [it’s] the ultimate team sport,” Pierce said. “Being able to coach with the man I’ve looked up to my entire life means more than I can put in words.”

This story was originally published on The Black & White on November 4, 2023.