Twice in the fourth quarter on Friday night, Atholton senior quarterback watched the referees come onto the field after one of his signature fourth-down quarterback draw plays and measure the ball precious inches short of a first down.
One of those turnovers on downs led to a game-tying touchdown for Reservoir. But when overtime came around, Casey knew that his feet wouldn't fail him again.
"It was there, (even) on fourth down when we got stopped by inches, it was still a five, six-yard run," said Casey, who scored on a five-yard run on the first possession of overtime. "So we did that in overtime and got ten yards, we ran that play five-and-five and got it in."
After the extra point by freshman Kyle Butts, Reservoir scored on its first play — a ten-yard run by junior Avian White — but the Gators were stopped a few yards short on the game-winning two-point conversion attempt, giving Atholton (10-1) the 21-20 overtime win in the 3A East regional semifinals.
"We told Luke he had to lower his pads a little bit more and go get one more inch," Atholton coach Kyle Schmitt said. "Our kids persevered and this team’s got tremendous character. It’s awesome ... survive and advance, that’s all it’s about.”
The Raiders will now visit rival River Hill (11-0) next Friday night for the 3A East regional championship game.
Atholton dominated time of possession in the first half, 14:12 to 9:28, building 14-0 halftime lead on a 30-yard touchdown pass from Casey to Keyon Pinnock and a short run by junior Isaac Murray (21 carries, 79 yards). The Raiders were aided by a pair of turnovers: a Pat Mullens fumble recovery and a Jordan Mason interception.
But Reservoir came out a different team in the second half. Their first possession lost two yards on eight plays after a penalty and tackles for loss by Cody Stolar and Jamal Washington. But the Gators got a big break when Dominic Lopes recovered a fumble on the ensuing punt return in Atholton territory.
That facilitated a nine-play scoring drive, ending with an 18-yard TD pass from Max Schuster to James Simms. Atholton had the ball for less than three minutes in the third quarter, and their next drive ended on the first of Atholton's two failed fourth-down conversions. Simms, who finished with five tackles for a loss or no gain, had both stops. Zack Hess also had two tackles for loss.
Three plays later, on third and seven from its own 23-yard line, Reservoir went deep into the playbook, and the gambit paid off big time when the Gators scored on a 77-yard double pass play from Schuster to Mohamed El-zein to Robert Armstrong.
"They'd been throwing that screen all night. Our kids jumped it and Armstrong slipped out the back. It was a great design, it caught us offguard," Schmitt said. "It was a gutsy call on third down, they took advantage of our aggressiveness."
Becuase Washington had blocked the kick after Reservoir's first touchdown, the Gators were forced to go for two after the second. But Schuster lobbed a ball to the corner for Simms (6 catches, 77 yards), who caught it easily to tie the game at 14-14 with 8:30 left.
"They've got some really good players. I think Simms is as good as I've played against in four years here, and Robert Armstrong is awesome," Schmitt said. "I have tremendous respect for the coaches and players on Reservoir. That was a tremendous effort, they could have folded and they didn't."
Neither team was able to make much headway on its remaining drives, and a Simms interception at midfield on an Atholton Hail Mary pass attempt sent the game to overtime.
That's when Casey (23 carries, 103 yards) scored on the five-yard run, and Butts kicked his third extra point of the game to put Atholton ahead, 21-14.
"Going into OT they had the momentum. But our O-line and Luke came in with two quick runs and we put it in," Schmitt said. "And that put the pressure on them."
But Reservoir needed only one play — White's ten-yard run — to score its touchdown.
The Gators (6-5) opted to go for the game-winning conversion run rather than kick the extra point.
Before the snap, Reservoir coach Bryan Cole — noticing that the Atholton defense had overloaded toward the direction of their play — ran down the sideline yelling for a time out, but his request fell on deaf ears.
In a bit of trickery, Schuster walked toward the sideline as if a time out had already been called. White took the direct snap and hurtled toward the goal line, but was stopped a few yards short by Stolar.
"We ran that in practice one time, throwing some trick plays at them, so they had an idea what was coming and they did a heck of a job," Schmitt said.
Earlier this season, Atholton defeated Reservoir 28-25, and their last three meetings have now been decided by ten points or less.
“Games like this, flip a coin,” said Cole, whose team was playing its first football playoff game in school history. “I’m disappointed for these guys but I’m very proud of them.
"So close. One point ... one point.”
Atholton and River Hill did not meet during the regular season, but have played against each other five times in the past three seasons. Atholton has shut out River Hill in each of their past two regular season meetings — 14-0 and 10-0 — but River Hill has won the last two times they've met in the playoffs, 21-12 last year, and 30-3 in 2009. River Hill will be playing for its seventh regional championship in the last eight years.
“I’m really excited just to get out there (against River Hill), we’re just going to practice hard and get ready for them,” said Casey, who played for Mount St. Joseph last year before transferring to Atholton. "We just can’t give up and that’s one thing we’ve been doing well all year."
Re (6-5) 0 0 6 8 6 - 20
A (10-1) 7 7 0 0 7 - 21
A: Pinnock 30 pass from Casey (Butts kick), 7:24.
A: Murray 1 run (Butts kick), 2:57.
Re: Simms 18 pass from Schuster (kick blocked), 2:46.
Re: Armstrong 77 pass from El-zein (Simms pass from Schuster), 8:32.
A: Casey 5 run (Butts kick).
Re: White 10 run (run failed).
Re: White 13-55, TD; Armstrong 9-32; Team 30-92, TD.
A: Casey 23-103, TD; Murray 21-79, TD; Team 45-184, 2 TD.
Re: Schuster 7/12, 86, TD, INT; El-zein 1/1, 77, TD.
A: Casey 8/15, 94, TD, INT.
Re: Simms 6-77, TD; Armstrong 1-77, TD; White 1-9.
A: Mullens 4-42; Pinnock 2-40, TD; Anthony 1-7; Mason 1-5.
Leading kick/punt returners
Re: El-zein 3-36; Logan 1-22.
A: Murray 1-31.
Re: Marsh 5-187 (37.4 AVG)
A: Boateng 3-73 (24.3)
Time of possession
River Hill 48, Mt. Hebron 13
The Hawks (11-0) advanced by defeating Mt. Hebron (6-5), 48-13. River Hill built a 28-13 halftime lead on a 23-yard pass from Austin Altman to Evan Griffin, a 15-yard punt return by Stephan Osong and a pair of interception returns by Jason Park (25 and 40 yards).
Zachary Nicholas scored both of the Vikings' touchdowns, on a 10-yard run and a 47-yard pass from Jake Snyder.
In the second half, Altman came through with three more touchdowns: on a six-yard run, and passes to Cory Daniel (32 yards) and Nick Ball (12).
Altman has now thrown 24 TD passes this season, with six games of three or more.
River Hill defeated Mt. Hebron during the regular season, 37-0, when both teams were undefeated.