Long Reach football beat Oakland Mills, 14-7, on Friday, September 23, 2016 in a Howard County football game.
A sloppy, gritty football game wouldn't usually end in Long Reach's favor in recent seasons. After all, the program won just three games the previous two years, and had the second-worst defense in the county in 2015 with 330 points allowed.
But this is a new Lightning team, and the defense helped prove that in a 14-7 victory over visiting Oakland Mills Friday night to move to 4-0.
It's the first time they have been undefeated this late in the season since starting 7-0 in 2004.
"You never apologize for winning," Long Reach coach Jamie Willis said after his team held on to a 14-0 first-quarter lead to beat the Scorpions for the first time since 2012. "It builds some character. The last few weeks we were able to do some things offensively and how they played us on defense ... gave us some issues. But a win is a win. We'll take it."
Long Reach scored on its first possession of the game, as running back KaDarrian Booker broke free up the middle for a 39-yard touchdown run on the third play of the drive. It would turn out to be the only offensive score of the game for either team, as both team's defenses dominated the contest throughout.
The Scopions went three-and-out on their first drive, and then their next five drives ended with a lost fumble, punt, another lost fumble, and interceptions on back-to-back possessions between the first and second quarters.
Long Reach failed to capitalize on the first three turnovers, but not on the fourth. Luis Gooden Jr. picked off Oakland Mills quarterback Aaron Gibson's pass and returned it 25 yards for a touchdown with 10 seconds left in the first quarter to put the Lightning up 14-0.
The Scorpions, however, were able to overcome most of the turnovers and found life in the fourth quarter thanks to their own defense.
Shallon Robinson, who stepped in to play quarterback for a struggling Gibson early in the third quarter, intercepted a pass from Long Reach quarterback Tyler Raines and took it 25 yards for Oakland Mills' only touchdown with less than nine minutes to play.
"We're always in the game – we're always preaching that and we're not lying to them," said Oakland Mills coach Tom Browne, who added that he put Robinson in at quarterback to "change it up" and get a "spark."
"It was nice to back in the game and the defense was excited to get back on the field because they've been balling all night. We just couldn't get it done on offense."
On the Scorpions' next offensive drive, it looked like they were going to have a first-and-goal at the Lightning 1 after Robinson completed a 90-yard pass to Jordan Hopkins, who caught a slant over the middle and sped down the left sideline. However, the referees called a block in the back penalty on Oakland Mills, which moved the ball back 54 yards to its own 45 yard line.
The Scorpions (2-2) managed to gain just one yard on the next four plays and turned the ball over on downs, and Long Reach managed to get a first down to ice the game.
"Honestly the play went by so fast I don't know, but I'd have to see it on film," said Browne. "Chances are it's not even on the film, but that's not why we lost the football game. We lost the football game because we turned the ball over [a bunch] of times and they outplayed us. ... We made a ton of mistakes."
The Scorpions turned the ball over four times in the first half, and had four more in the second half, including two additional interceptions. They also committed eight penalties while on offense, several of which came after long first or second down gains that pushed them backwards.
"If you don't take care of the football, you're probably not going to win a high school football game against a good team, and that's exactly what they are," Browne said. "They're a good football team, and my hat goes off to them."
Long Reach, meanwhile, missed several opportunities to cash in on offense. It had a 17-play drive stall at the Oakland Mills 24 in the second quarter, and failed to get points on a drive that started inside Scorpions' territory just before halftime.
Early in the third, Chad Brown intercepted Gibson's final pass of the night at the Scorpions' 36, but the offense went three-and-out. A costly holding penalty nullified what would have been a 41-yard touchdown pass from Raines to Emmanuel Ekop Jr.
On their next drive late in the third quarter, Booker lost a fumble in Oakland Mills' territory on the first play.
"We left a lot of points on the board," said Booker, who finished the game with 26 carries for 89 yards and a touchdown. "The defense stepped up. They basically pitched a shutout, and we turned the ball over. Our defense really gave the game to us."
But the Lightning defense came up big time and time again down the stretch. Dane Lynch Jr. ended Oakland Mills' best offensive drive by intercepting Robinson's pass at the goal line with less than 10 minutes to go. Jeree Willie also had an interception for Long Reach.
Raines has been one of the top quarterbacks in the county but struggled for much of the night. He went 7-for-22 for 68 yards passing and an interception. Willis said the Oakland Mills defense caused havoc with so many blitzes.
But he was proud of the way his defense played in all aspects.
"Our defense and our [defensive backs] are outstanding. They played lights out. And our defensive line played well," Willis said. "... The one thing we've really stressed over the last few years is not playing for yourself, but playing for the guy next to you. In games like that, when you play for the guy next to you, you get games like this. You pull it out for them and you just keep fighting, and that's what they did. They kept fighting and our defense played a hell of a game."
Browne said he was excited about how well his defense played, and looking at the big picture, he said his team would be "fine" going forward.
"It's a marathon. It's a 10-game season and you can't look a minute down the road," he said. "It's our job as coaches to make those kids realize that. ... It's a long season and there's going to be tons of ups and downs."
Gibson finished the game 6-for-17 passing for 49 yards and two interceptions, while Robinson went 3-for-12 with 46 yards and an interception. Jorie Kolliegbo led the Scorpions with 15 carries for 41 yards.
Long Reach (4-0) – 14 0 0 0 – 14
Oakland Mills (2-2) – 0 0 0 7 – 7
LR: KaDarrian Booker 39-yard run, Arthur Yann Nkonoandjouo kick [7-0]
LR: Luis Gooden Jr. 25-yard interception return [14-0]
Howard sophomore running back Devin Dawkins needed only six carries to gain 154 yards and score three touchdowns. The Lions finished with 358 yards rushing on 28 carries to remain unbeaten at 4-0. Their county winning streak is now at 28.
Ho: Devin Dawkins 40-yard run, Michael Gillespie kick [7-0]
Ho: Dawkins 9-yard run, Gillespie kick [14-0]
Ho: DJ Howard 65-yard run, Gillespie kick [21-0]
Ho: Robby Porter 34-yard pass to Anthony Reid, Gillespie kick [28-0]
Ho: Dawkins 78-yard run, Gillespie kick [35-0]
Ho: Robert Agbai 2-yard run, conversion failed [41-0]
Ho: Agbai 16-yard run, no kick [47-0]
Wilde Lake (2-2) – 0 7 6 14 – 27
Atholton (2-2) – 0 3 0 0 – 3
WL: Stanley Kirkland 59-yard run, Jason MacMillan kick [7-0]