HOWARD COUNTY, MD — Three plays into Marriotts Ridge's game with Wilde Lake on Friday night, Mustangs senior Abeku Abercrombie saw the snap fly over senior Stanley Thomas' head.
The Wildecats quarterback initially jumped for the ball in the end zone, leading Marriotts Ridge players to believe it had forced a safety. But when Thomas couldn't corral it, Abercrombie sprawled out and gained possession for the touchdown. After managing just two field goals in a loss to Long Reach last week, the Mustangs led, 7-0.
Abercrombie's defensive score turned out to be the only touchdown Marriotts Ridge (3-4) would need to secure its third win of the season. Wilde Lake had as many turnovers (three) as it did points, and the Mustangs capitalized on those giveaways with three field goals in their eventual 16-3 win.
The result marks the Wildecats' sixth straight defeat since blowing out Hammond to open the season.
"It was a win, and we'll take those any way we can get them," coach Marcus Lewis said. "It probably wasn't the prettiest, but a win is a win."
Wilde Lake's offense sputtered again Friday night to continue its season-long scoring struggles. The Wildecats (1-6) produced 41 points against Hammond but have averaged 7.3 points per contest in the six games since. Before the final drive, which came against many of the Mustangs reserves, they managed 130 yards of total offense.
"The key to the game today was the hustle on defense," senior Troy Hettinger said. "We never really let them advance the ball. The one time they scored, it was a mishap on offense. But the defense was solid."
The field goal Hettinger was referring to occurred late in the first half with Marriotts Ridge threatening to extend its lead. Leading, 10-0, with under a minute left, senior quarterback Nathan Schubert fumbled inside the red zone. Freshman William Parker scooped up the ball and rumbled about 65 yards, setting up Wilde Lake at the 15-yard line.
But even with a short field, the Wildecats couldn't punch one in. They settled for a 30-yard field goal from sophomore Sam Nason to make it a 10-3 halftime deficit.
Without senior playmaker Eli Turner, who was sidelined with a knee injury, Marriotts Ridge wasn't much better offensively. Freshman Kameron Young (18 rushes for 54 yards) helped the offense string together first downs but couldn't break the big run. The Mustangs made five trips to the red zone and did not score a touchdown.
But with Hettinger, a first-team all-county kicker last year, three of those possessions ended in points.
Hettinger earned league recognition after making 16 of his 18 extra points and all five of his field goal attempts, including a 39-yard strike, in 2016. Lewis said he's made 60-yard field goals this season in practice, albeit off the tee and without a rush. With Mustangs defenders coming at Hettinger, Lewis said his longest make is 55 yards.
"It's a blessing," Lewis said. "We don't even practice kickoffs during special teams because I'm banking on the fact that nine times out of 10 he's going to put it in the end zone."
Despite missing a 37-yard attempt against Wilde Lake, Hettinger proceeded to convert tries from 28, 37 and 39 yards away.
"Coach always emphasizes that it's basically turning over the ball if you miss a field goal," Hettinger said. "And it's also a way to put up points."
Marriotts Ridge didn't necessarily need Hettinger's career-high three field goal makes Friday night, as Wilde Lake could muster much of anything offensively.
The Wildecats marched to the Mustangs' 13-yard line on their second possession before junior Daris Wilson recovered another Thomas fumble. Midway through the third quarter, he gave the ball away a third time. The turnover set up Hettinger's final field goal, which gave the Mustangs a 16-3 advantage.
Hettinger emphasized that Marriotts Ridge needs to improve on offense entering next week's game against Mt. Hebron. Lewis understands failing to record an offensive touchdown won't be enough to beat many Howard County teams.
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But Friday night, playing well in two phases helped the Mustangs keep their hopes of a winning season alive.