As the head of a program struggling to establish itself, Marriotts Ridge football coach Marcus Lewis knows that he can't afford to let a good athlete get away.
And his persistence in recruiting junior defensive back Sam McCoy paid off with a precious 21-12 win over visiting Long Reach (1-7) on Saturday afternoon.
Long Reach was within range to kick the go-ahead field goal with less than a minute left when McCoy intercepted a pass at around the 15-yard line and returned it 85 yards to clinch the Mustangs's win on homecoming.
"You've got a kid out there who's been playing football for like six weeks who makes the play of the game," Lewis said. "He's never played football before. I had him in class so last year I started talking to him and he said he wanted to play soccer. It didn't work out for him for soccer, so when he got cut from soccer I said the offer is still out there. He went home and came back the next weekend and has been here ever since.
"He's a pretty tough kid. He's got decent athleticism for what we need up here, and I just liked the way he carried himself … he just has it," Lewis added.
McCoy, who also plays lacrosse for Marriotts Ridge, broke up two passes thrown his way earlier in the second half.
"They're always going to test him. Our other corner is about 6'1", and then you've got Sam. These kids know each other pretty well, so of course he's going to get tested," Lewis said. "The good thing about it is we've got him next year as well."
Long Reach scored first on a short run by Tommy Montag, but Marriotts Ridge (2-6) took a 7-6 lead on a touchdown pass from Chase Sanchez to Markquice Stringfellow near the end of the first quarter and scored again with less than 30 seconds left in the first half on a short touchdown run by Sanchez. The score was set up by a 29-yard pass to Julian Heard to the 1-yard line.
Long Reach had four drives end on Marriotts Ridge's side of the field in the second quarter: on a lost fumble, two incomplete passes on fourth down and a missed field goal.
The Lightning recovered their own kickoff to start the third quarter, but couldn't capitalize, again failing to complete a pass on fourth down.
Marriotts Ridge mounted one of its best drives of the game on the ensuing series, marching the ball into the red zone, as Sanchez rushed for 18 yards and completed a 10-yard pass to RJ Bryant, but Long Reach's Tommy Montag forced a fumble that was recovered by Mike Conlan to end the threat.
The Lightning — which outrushed Marriotts Ridge 121-43 in the second half and had 169 yards of total second half offense compared to the Mustangs' 68 — seemingly took advantage of the turnover on their next possession when Rob Carter broke a 56-yard touchdown run, but it was called back for holding.
After the Long Reach defense stopped Marriotts Ridge on back-to-back possessions, the Lightning offense finally returned the favor when sophomore Tyler Winbush (8 carries, 89 yards in the second half) busted loose for a 53-yard touchdown run. Long Reach then completed a quick two-point conversion pass from CJ Smalley to Brandan Barrington, but it was called off for a penalty.
Marriotts Ridge's Lawrence Wilson stopped Smalley on the ensuing run play to keep the Mustangs ahead 14-12.
After the two teams traded possessions, Long Reach got the ball back at midfield with 1:44 left in the game. The Lightning moved the ball all the way to the Marriotts Ridge 20-yard line before McCoy's game-changing interception.
"The guy went for a hitch route and I saw the quarterback throw the ball and I just came up on it and intercepted it. When I intercepted it it was like a dream," McCoy said. "It was pretty crazy. I thought "I actually have the ball right now." There's nothing like it."
Although Marriotts Ridge's record coming into the game was officially 1-6, that included a win by forfeit over Atholton in Week 1 for an offseason practice violation. On the field, that game was won by Atholton, 35-7.
"We've been struggling. Even though we both had the same record ours was a little phony because we got a forfeit ... I told the kids that didn't count," Lewis said. "Homecoming, it's a big deal for them and they came up big when they had to.
"It was ugly but we got the win. We made a lot of mistakes and the kids overcame a lot of errors on our part…we gutted it out."
The Mustangs' 21 points tied a season highwater mark.
Atholton 21, Mt. Hebron 14