Visiting Centennial overcame a two-touchdown Mt. Hebron lead to pull out a 28-21 football victory Saturday in a homecoming game that was halted for about 10 minutes by a fight on the field that led to the ejection of four players and two coaches.
The fight occurred with about a minute left in the first quarter when two players who were shoving each other after a play started throwing punches. That led to shoving matches among a number of other players and the intervention of at least two assistant coaches.
Two players and one assistant coach from each team were ejected. They also will have to sit out the next game.
"It's good to have rivalries, but they should be friendly rivalries," said Centennial athletics and activities manager Jean Vanderpool.
"I'm disappointed in a couple of our kids' actions. That's not what I'm about, that's not what this program is about, and that's not what this school is about," Mt. Hebron coach Phil Zacharias said. "It's unfortunate."
Centennial fumbled on the first play from scrimmage, and Mt. Hebron's Zach Nicholas scored a 35-yard touchdown on the recovery. The Eagles, who also lost two of their top players in the fight, fell behind, 14-0, before the end of the quarter.
"Everyone knows you've got to step up, you've got to keep playing. That's the game of football. Stuff is going to happen, it's how you adjust to it," said senior quarterback Tyler Morris, who helped his team battle back to win on a touchdown with just under two minutes left. "We had never played down before with this group, so coming back showed a lot about our team."
Each year, the game between Centennial and Mt. Hebron is played for the Ed Holshue Cup, a trophy honoring Holshue, who coached and taught at each Ellicott City school for more than 25 years combined.
The Centennial-Mt. Hebron rivalry has been heated in the past, but both sides were disappointed that it went beyond that.
However, once the game resumed, each team's star player helped restore order.
Mt. Hebron's Nicholas scored on a 2-yard touchdown run, and then Centennial's Walter Fletcher scored on a 3-yard touchdown run early in the second quarter.
It was the first of Fletcher's four touchdowns in the game, including what turned out to be the game-winner.
"Walter played amazing," said Morris, who completed three passes for 60 yard, including two to Damon Reaves for 36 and one to Wesley Brown for 24. "This was probably the funnest game I've ever played in."
Fletcher scored from 1-yard out with three minutes left in the third quarter to tie the game after a 60-yard, six-minute drive, but on the first drive of the fourth quarter, the Vikings reclaimed the lead when Nicholas recovered a botched pitch and ran it back 15 yards for his second fumble recovery touchdown of the game.
"He's who we are right now," Zacharias said of Nicholas, who finished with more than 40 rushing yards and six receptions for 96 yards.
But it didn't take long for Centennial to respond
On the ensuing kickoff, Centennial coach Todd Kriner put Fletcher on special teams, and the move paid off. Fletcher collected the kick around the 25-yard line, dodged a few defender and dashed up the sideline for a 75-yard game-tying kick return.
Fletcher finished with more than 160 yards and three touchdowns on 30 carries.
Mt. Hebron pushed the ball into Centennial territory on its next drive, but had to punt from the 40 with eight minutes left.
That set up a 12-play drive, capped by a Fletcher touchdown from 19 yards out, that put the Eagles ahead, 28-21, and gave Mt. Hebron the ball back with less than two minutes left.
The Vikings got inside Centennial's 15-yard line, after passes from Jake Snyder to Nicholas (36 and 6 yards) and Chris Anderson (19 yards), but the Eagles finally clinched the win with a sack on 4th-and-15 from the 18-yard line with five seconds left.
Reaves led the Eagles' defense with 8.5 tackles, and Anthony Saunders had three sacks.
Snyder finished with 11 completions for 154 yards. Anderson had three catches for 54 yards.
"I'm happy for our program. The kids and coaches rallied up in situations that weren't ideal and that's a very good thing," said Kriner, whose team improved to 3-0 .
Centennial and Mt. Hebron did not play each other last season, and the Eagles now lead the Ed Holshue Cup series, 6-5, since it began in 2002.
Mt. Hebron fell to 0-3 with the loss after making the playoffs last season.
"We're getting better, but it's taking time," Zacharias said. "We have a lot of new people, faces have changed. What Centennial has this year, maybe we had last year. We have a good football team and you guys will find that out down the road, so we're just going to keep working."
C (3-0) 0 7 7 14 - 28
MH (0-3) 14 0 0 7 - 21
MH: Nicholas 35 fumble return (Lettieri kick), 11:30.
MH: Nicholas 2 run (Lettieri kick), :57.
C: Fletcher 3 run (Cooper kick), 8:33.
C: Fletcher 1 run (Cooper kick), 3:12.
MH: Nicholas 15 fumble return (Lettieri kick), 11:32.
C: Fletcher 75 kick return (Cooper kick), 11:19.
C: Fletcher 19 run (Cooper kick), 1:54.
Around the league
Wilde Lake 29, Long Reach 7
Long Reach drew first blood as Rob Carter caught an 80-yard touchdown pass from CJ Smalley in the first quarter, but it wasn't enough to spoil Wilde Lake's homecoming game.
The Wildecats scored 29 unanswered points — including touchdown passes from Spencer Ampofo to DeVon Groves (25 and 10 yards) and sophomore Quez Bradley (25 yards) — to win their first game of the season, 29-7.
Bradley also had a sack, and a 53-yard fumble recovery for Wilde Lake's final touchdown. Steve Jordan led Wilde Lake's defense with three sacks, and the Wildecats' made seven sacks as a team.
Malik Jackson also had four catches, for 51 yards, and Ampofo finished with 11 completions for 192 yards and the three touchdowns.
WL (1-2) 0 15 0 14 - 29
LR (0-3) 7 0 0 0 - 7
LR: Carter 80 pass from Smalley (Ford kick).
WL: Groves 25 pass from Ampofo (Fermin pass from Shimabukuro).
WL: Bradley 25 pass from Ampofo (Perez kick).
WL: Groves 10 pass from Ampofo, (Perez kick).
WL: Bradley 53 fumble return (Perez kick).
Standings (as of Sept. 21)
River Hill, 3-0
Marriotts Ridge, 1-2
Oakland Mills, 1-2
Wilde Lake, 1-2
Long Reach, 0-3
Mt. Hebron, 0-3