Counselors who have been working with the boy and his family agreed that he may have believed he would meet the same fate as his late father if he hadn't defended himself that day.
The incident that claimed his father's life occurred years ago in Prince George's County, where the family used to live. Ironically, they moved to Hagerstown to escape the violence.
"His father was killed in a similar situation where he was surrounded - that may have had an impact," said the teenager's attorney, Michael Morrissette, at an earlier hearing.
It was at that hearing in September when the teen pleaded guilty to second-degree assault and carrying a weapon.
"You are worthy of another chance," McDowell said Wednesday after hearing of his excellent school attendance and grades and no hint of drug or alcohol use.
Counseling, good behavior and school attendance must continue and the teen was ordered to complete 150 hours of community service, McDowell said.
The victim, Jose Benitez, then 13, suffered a collapsed lung in the Nov. 27 attack, police said. He was a patient at Washington County Hospital until Dec. 1, according to hospital records.
Witnesses told police an argument near a basketball court in Court 8 of Noland Village escalated into a fistfight and the defendant went to his house and returned with a knife.
Minutes later, Benitez was stabbed in the back, police said.
"I'm sorry for what I did. Now I can handle anger better," the defendant said to McDowell in court Wednesday. "I want to let you know I'm trying to do good."