Atholton junior running back Melvin Brown felt that if his team lost at Marriotts Ridge Friday night, it would fall on his shoulders.
His mistake late in the third quarter — a fumble inches away from the goal line — cost the Raiders a chance to make it a two-possession game. Based on the way his team’s defense was playing, a touchdown would have likely put the game out of reach. Instead, the Mustangs had life, down 7-0.
“I felt pretty bad, but I knew I had to redeem myself,” said Brown, a transfer from River Hill. “It meant the game. If they went out there and scored that would have been on me because I fumbled. So I had to go back out there and do it for my team.”
But in Friday night’s defensive slugfest, which Atholton won, 7-2, thanks to Connor Marshall’s 27-yard touchdown pass to tight end Philip Choi on 4th-and-6 midway through the third quarter, it came down to which team would commit the last error.
Raiders senior Jake Peretti, who last week set the state record for interceptions in a game with five, came through in the clutch at his second position — kicker. His pooch kick to the left with 4:06 remaining was as good as an onside kick, as it was recovered by Kade Singleton and gave Atholton its final possession with a five-point lead.
“It was magical,” said Atholton coach Justin Carey, who admitted it wasn’t a planned play. “It turned out to be an onside kick. Hats off to him, but in these types of ball games you need a little bit of luck, to be honest.”
Brown iced the game with seven carries — two for first downs — in an eight-play drive in which the Raiders used the entirety of the remaining game clock and improved to 3-1 for the first time since 2012.
Carey called Brown his fourth-quarter running back and the junior lived up to that. He ran 15 times for 61 yards in the second half after carrying it four times for 10 yards in the first.
Atholton held Marriotts Ridge to seven first downs and just three in the second half, all of which came in an 11-play drive that ended with the Mustangs turning it over on downs. They also lost two fumbles and finished with just 81 yards of offense.
“We stunk on offense. The defense played lights out,” said Marriotts Ridge coach Marcus Lewis. “We had a special teams blunder at the end and that’s my fault. We didn’t have the right people out there and that’s coaching all the way. I take responsibility for that. ... I think we took a step back tonight.”
Carey credited his defensive coordinator Aaron Saunders for the defensive game plan, calling him “lights out right now.”
“We’re don’t have stellar athletes but our scheme by [Saunders] puts our guys in the best position possible to play fast and make plays,” Carey said.
The Raiders’ lone score also came as a result of an on-the-field adjustment. Marriotts Ridge had stopped anything Atholton tried to run to the outside, so Brown came in and ran four straight times up inside the hashes for 26 yards to get the Raiders to the 23. A negative play was followed by Marshall finding Choi behind the linebackers over the middle for the game’s only touchdown. It was the junior’s first catch of the season.
Marriotts Ridge’s best opportunity to score came after it blocked a Raiders punt and took over at the 13 with 7:37 to go. But in three plays, the Mustangs lost three yards and a 33-yard field goal attempt from all-county kicker Troy Hettinger was short and wide.
Their defense, paired with two penalties by Atholton, drove the Raiders backwards to their own 5 on the next drive, and Marriotts Ridge capitalized with Darius Wilson’s sack in the end zone for a safety.
“You give up seven points you’re supposed to win, and our defense scored,” said Lewis. “We held them to seven and plus two. We can’t ask for more of our defense than that.”
Atholton (3-1) — 0 0 7 0 — 7
Marriotts Ridge (0-3) — 0 0 0 2 — 2
A: Connor Marshall 27-yard pass to Philip Choi, William Looney kick [7-0]
MR: Darius Wilson sack for safety [7-2]
To see other Howard County football scores on Sept. 22, click HERE.