Atholton football coach Kyle Schmitt knew that his young team would get better as the season went on. He just hoped that by the time his players started to reach their potential, they'd still be in the hunt.
And after Friday night's 34-14 win at Mt. Hebron (5-2), the Raiders (6-1) are certainly still in the thick of things.
"The kids have done it and they're easy to coach, they just want to get better," Schmitt said. "They're seeing it happen in practice, which is pretty exciting."
The Raiders won their first three games by a combined margin of six points before a disheartening 13-12 loss to Long Reach, but they've now won their last three games by a combined score of 107-20.
"We're hoping to go to states, and if we keep working hard, we'll get there," said senior receiver Keyon Pinnock, who returned a kickoff 82 yards for a touchdown and caught a 62-yard touchdown pass from Luke Casey in the first half of Friday night's win.
Pinnock's kick return tied the game at 7-7 immediately after Vikings quarterback Malik Gilmore (11/22, 147 yards) connected with Zach Nicholas (111 rushing/receiving yards) for a 34-yard catch and run touchdown play midway through the first quarter.
"I just made a few cuts and went all the way," Pinnock said.
Casey, a senior, also scored twice, on a short run after a Graham Broschart fumble recovery in Mt. Hebron territory in the first quarter, and a 15-yard scramble in the third quarter to put his team ahead, 27-7.
Casey finished the game with ten completions for 194 yards, and also rushed for 30 yards. Pinnock caught four passes for 119 yards, and Pat Mullens caught three for 60 yards.
"Playing with Luke is awesome, he has a really good arm and he's a really good leader, he completes the team pretty much," Pinnock said.
The Vikings scored again on a 53-yard pass from Gilmore to Burke late in the third quarter to make it a two-score game, but a failed fourth down conversion attempt on their next possession essentially ended their hopes for a comeback.
Atholton running back Isaac Murray (22 carries, 127 yards) scored on a five-yard run in the fourth quarter to account for the final score.
Brian Gsell and Sean McHugh each intercepted passes for the Raiders, while Dillan Solo picked off a pass for the Vikings, who also got a nine-yard sack and a six-yard tackle for loss from Anthony Lewis.
Mt. Hebron has now lost two in a row, including last week's 37-0 shut out at undefeated defending state champion River Hill. The Hawks defeated Marriotts Ridge (2-5) on Friday night to improve to 7-0.
Despite the loss, Mt. Hebron — under first year head coach Phil Zacharias — is having its best season in almost a decade and still has a shot at qualifying for the postseason for the first time since 2003.
A (6-1) 14 6 7 7 - 34
MH (5-2) 7 0 7 0 - 14
MH: Nicholas 34 pass from Gilmore (Humm kick), 5:33. [0-7]
A: Pinnock 82 kick return (Butts kick), 5:18. [7-7]
A: Casey 1 run (Butts kick), 1:56. [14-7]
A: Pinnock 62 pass from Casey (kick blocked by Leach), 7:41. [20-7]
A: Casey 15 run (Butts kick), 4:12. [27-7]
MH: Burke 53 pass from Gilmore (Humm kick), :46. [27-14]
A: Murray 5 run (Butts kick), 4:51. [34-14]
Statistical breakdownLeading rushers
A: Murray 22-127, TD; Casey 14-28, 2 TD; Team 40-147, 3 TD.
MH:Gilmore 8-49; Nicholas 6-38; Stevenson 3-7; Team 21-95.
A: Casey 10/16, 194, TD, INT.
MH: Gilmore 11/22, 147, 2 TD, INT; Snyder 2/5, 35, INT.
A: Pinnock 4-119, TD; Mullens 4-60; Anthony 1-9; Findlay-Smith 1-6.
MH: Nicholas 4-73, TD; Burke 2-60, TD; Solo 6-37; Bryant 1-12.
Leading kick/punt returners
A: Pinnock 1-82, TD; Mason 2-38.
MH: Nicholas 1-22; Porter 1-20; Stevenson 1-18.
Around the league
River Hill (7-0) held onto the top spot in the league by defeating Marriotts Ridge (2-5) on Friday, 62-0.
It was the Hawks' second straight shutout, and fourth of the season.
Centennial (1-5) at Hammond (3-3), 12 p.m.
Long Reach (1-5) at Wilde Lake (3-3), 1 p.m.
Reservoir (3-3) at Howard (4-2), 1 p.m.
Glenelg (3-3) at Oakland Mills (0-6), 2 p.m.