Mt. Hebron’s Zach Nicholas caught a 53-yard touchdown pass from Malik Gilmore, and returned an interception 20 yards for a touchdown — all in the fourth quarter — to give the Vikings a 20-14 win over visiting Howard (5-4) on Friday night.
The win ended a three-game losing streak for Mt. Hebron (6-3), and ensured the Vikings their first winning season since 2004.
“This was probably our biggest game of the season considering the stakes, and we played well enough to win,” Nicholas said. “The whole team played very hard.”
Gilmore (16 completions, 218 yards) also threw a 33-yard touchdown pass to Dillan Solo (3 catches, 58 yards) midway through the first quarter. Neither team scored again until the Nicholas (5 catches, 104 yards) touchdown reception on the first play of the fourth quarter.
"We always were confident what kind of team we were, it's just that we knew we needed to get back to where we were before," Nicholas said. "All of our players kept playing. We didn't stop."
Howard, which lost starting quarterback Austin Blair to a broken leg in a loss to Reservoir two weeks ago, rallied furiously in the final minutes, scoring on a 47-yard touchdown run by Josh Peoples (4 carries, 78 yards) after a fumbled hand-off, and then again on a short run by Michael Anderson with less than two minutes left. But after the Lions’ unsuccessful onside kick attempt, Mt. Hebron was able to kneel out the clock for the win.
Anderson finished with an enormous 320 all-purpose yards (161 rushing, 57 receiving, 102 return).
Howard recovered its own kickoff inside Mt. Hebron's 40 on the game's opening play, and drove to the Vikings' 5-yard line before being turned away on fourth down. That stop led to Mt. Hebron driving the length of the field, capped by Gilmore's scoring pass to Solo.
"If we put it in its a different game, their confidence might have dropped a little bit and ours would have been sky-high," Howard coach Bruce Strunk said. "But instead they took the ball and drove it the length of the field and they played sky-high, and we went down. It's a game of emotions."
Neither team was especially effective on third or fourth down. Howard finished the game 1/8 on third downs, and 0/3 on fourth while Mt. Hebron finished a combined 3/14. Howard's first third down conversion came when Anderson scored from 1-yard out with less than 90 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
Howard will now likely need to defeat defending state champion River Hill (9-0) next week to get into the playoffs.
“I thought we played tough ... I’m proud of the way our kids fought to the end, it just doesn’t always work out," Strunk said. "We have to beat River Hill now."
With a win next week at Hammond (4-5), Mt. Hebron will also qualify for the postseason for the first time since 2003.
“We’ve been through a tough three weeks, and I’m just happy for our seniors. We have a winning season for our football program and our school, we wanted to be able to say we have a winning football season,” said first year coach Phil Zacharias. “We got there, but I guess there’s more out there.”
Ho (5-4) 0 0 0 14 - 14
MH (6-3) 7 0 0 13 - 20
MH: Solo 33 pass from Gilmore (Humm kick), 4:37. [7-0]
MH: Nicholas 53 pass from Gilmore (kick blocked), 11:47. [13-0]
Ho: Peoples 47 run (Stewart kick), 5:31. [13-7]
MH: Nicholas 20 interception return (Humm kick), 2:35. [20-7]
Ho: Anderson 1 run (Stewart kick), 1:23. [20-14]
Ho: Anderson 28-161, TD; Peoples 4-78, TD; Team 40-231, 2 TD.
MH: Stevenson 16-53; Gilmore 15-33; Team 31-86.
Ho: Caruso 4/8, 65, 2 INT.
MH: Gilmore 16/30, 218, 2 TD, INT.
Ho: Anderson 3-57; Committe 1-8.
MH: Nicholas 5-104, TD; Solo 3-58, TD; Porter 2-22, Burke 1-13, Stevenson 4-11; Bryant 1-10.
Leading kick/punt returners
Ho: Anderson 4-102; Marsh 1-29; Charles 1-24.
MH: Solo 1-16.
Around the league
Atholton (8-1) 35, Marriotts Ridge (2-7) 0
Jamal Washington led the defensive effort with six tackles and a sack. As a unit, Atholton's defense had five sacks, led by Graham Kantor with two. David Bell and Cole Mason each intercepted passes.
It was the Raiders' second shutout of the season.
Quarterback Luke Casey led the Raiders' offense, passing for 125 yards and three touchdowns — to Keyon Pinnock (4 catches, 54 yards), Brandon Anthony (1, 31) and Patrick Mullens (2, 40). Mullens and Marquise Findlay-Smith (2 rushes, 51 yards) also rushed for touchdowns.
Casey also rushed for 89 yards, Isaac Murray added 77, and Kyle Hartman tacked on 54 more.
Kyle Butts was 5-for-5 on extra points.
Hammond (4-5) 33, Oakland Mills (0-9) 0
Reservoir (5-4) 45, Long Reach (2-7) 6
The Gators' 45 points were a season-high.
River Hill (9-0) 37, Wilde Lake (4-5) 0
The Hawks have outscored their last four opponents, 177-0.
(See related story)