With his team clinging onto a 20-18 lead over visiting Hammond Friday night, Atholton head coach Kyle Schmitt watched from the sideline as a thick fog rolled in low over Atholton's new artificial turf football field.
Hammond had the ball on its own 20-yard line with 90 seconds left, needing a touchdown to essentially win the game.
But the Golden Bears would need to overcome more than just the strong Atholton defense.
On second and ten from the 30-yard line, Hammond's Dionte Jones sprinted up the visitor's sideline and past the Atholton secondary. Hammond quarterback Tyler Martin dropped back and let loose a deep pass for Jones. The ball was on target, and the sure-handed Jones extended his hands to make the catch, but — presumably hampered by the murky fog — had it bounce off of his helmet and fall harmlessly to the turf.
Two plays later, Hammond (3-5) turned the ball over on downs and Atholton (7-1) had won the game, 20-18.
"I don't know where (the fog) came from, but I think it might have helped us," Schmitt said. "We feel a little bit lucky to get out of here with a win. But on a night like tonight ... you're just happy to come out with a W."
The Raiders have now won four games by three points or less, and their only loss was to Long Reach (1-6), 13-12, one month ago.
Friday night's game was postponed twice due to lightning in the area, and the second half did not begin until almost 9:30. Four of the six Howard County football games were postponed until either Saturday or Monday (see related story).
"Everybody was just sitting in the weight room just waiting to get back on the field and getting pumped. We tried to go out and then there was lightning again and we had to come back," said Atholton junior running back Isaac Murray, who finished the game with 150 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries. "It got a little hard, but when we finally (started again) everybody just rallied together and played as a team."
Murray also talked about the fog that rolled onto the field in the fourth quarter.
"It was extremely hard, we had to move closer to the sideline so we could see the calls, repeating things to make sure everything was correct," he said.
While Atholton and Hammond combined to score almost 40 points in the first half, neither team put any points on the board in the second half.
Both teams drove inside the other's 15-yard line in the second half, but each of those drives ended with a turnover: Atholton's on a lost fumble, and Hammond's on an incomplete pass on fourth down.
Jones carried Hammond's offensive load in the second half, gaining 92 yards on 13 carries.
"(Jones) is a hell of a player and we've got incredible respect for that kid," Schmitt said. "I knew those kids would come out fighting. I've been playing against them for four years now and basically every one has been like that one against those guys."
"We knew that Dionte Jones was the person that we really needed to stop," Murray said. "We have a bunch of options that we can use, Luke (Casey) and all the receivers, so we just do what we can do to try to score."
Casey (122 passing yards, 112 rushing yards) connected with receiver Jordan Mason for a difficult 25-yard catch on third and 21 from inside their own ten-yard line late in the fourth quarter. Mason had to leap toward the sideline to make the fingertip catch, extending the drive and taking crucial minutes off the clock.
Atholton jumped out to a 20-6 lead early in the game as Casey rushed for a touchdown and threw a scoring pass to Keyon Pinnock, but the Raiders fumbled the ball away twice in the second quarter, both leading to Hammond touchdowns, one of them on a long run by Jones.
"I didn't coach my best game but our defense bailed us out at the end," Schmitt said.
Brandon Anthony made a team-high ten tackles, Mason intercepted a pass, and Pat Mullens and David Bell each recovered fumbles for Atholton.
Tre Davis starred for the Hammond defense in the second half, recording four tackles for loss, including a pair of quarterback sacks.
Hammond was coming off of a disheartening, 14-13, overtime loss to Centennial last Saturday, and also lost to Reservoir, 21-20, earlier this season.
"It's been a hard luck season for these guys, we're 3-5 with a lot of close games," Hammond coach Dan Makosy said. "We've just been coming up on the short end ... good efforts get old after awhile, they're still losses.
"The county is very balanced this year," Makosy added. "Howard County is the toughest football in the state right now."
Around the league
Centennial shut out visiting Marriotts Ridge (2-6), 13-0, to improve to 3-5.
The Eagles were led on offense by Walter Fletcher, who rushed for 121 yards and a touchdown on 28 carries.
Michael Price (32 rushing yards) scored Centennial's other touchdown when he recovered a fumble and returned it 20 yards for the score.
Both touchdowns came in the second quarter. Damon Reaves caught two passes from Patrick McKinnis for 37 yards.
Centennial's last shut out came last Oct. 29 at Marriotts Ridge. It was Centennial's only win last season.
After beating Hammond last Saturday in overtime, the Eagles have now won back-to-back games for the first time since 2010.
With three wins, Centennial is having its best season since 2009, when it finished 4-6.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun