Yesterday was homecoming at Long Reach, and the day that things were supposed to be different.
The host Lightning has 31 seniors on the roster, and this looked like the year they could beat No. 10 Wilde Lake, a team they had yet to beat in three meetings.
Wilde Lake, however, had other plans.
The Wildecats (5-1 overall, 4-1 in Howard County League) got 109 yards rushing on 25 carries from Mario Merrills and two touchdown passes from quarterback Chad Fawcett to defeat the Lightning, 20-13.
Quarterback Stewart Long led the Lightning (3-3, 3-2) with 68 yards rushing on 10 carries and 78 yards passing.
"We knew they would give it all they had today; it's their homecoming," said Merrills. "They came out to play, but we were just a little bit better."
The Wildecats took a 7-0 lead on their first possession, when Fawcett's pass hit Comer Norwood in mid-stride at the Long Reach 15. Norwood ran in untouched for a 61-yard touchdown reception.
Early in the second quarter, the Wildecats recovered a Long Reach fumble at midfield, and used a 49-yard drive to extend the lead to 13-0. Merrills accounted for 43 yards in the drive.
The Lightning got in the game on the opening kickoff of the second half, when senior Robert Francois found a hole in the left side of the Wildecats' defense and raced 91 yards untouched for a touchdown to cut the deficit to 13-7.
Two series later, Wilde Lake's defense pinned the Lightning at its own 24. The resulting punt was returned by Merrills to the Long Reach 20. Wilde Lake scored three plays later, when on a third-and-13, Fawcett found Hugo Linares for a 23-yard touchdown pass with 3: 59 left in the quarter to make it 20-7.
Long Reach, using the arm and speed of Long, capped a 75-yard drive with Tally White's 1-yard touchdown run with 1: 10 left in the game to cut the score to 20-14.
The Lightning, however, could get no closer.
"We had our chances," said White. "We were that close. They made the big plays and we didn't and that's why they beat us.
Said Wilde Lake coach Doug DuVall: "We didn't play well today. Their program is improving, and we're a little down this year. Give them credit, they played us tough and we stayed alive and won the game."
That wasn't enough to satisfy Long Reach coach Pete Hughes, however.
"I told the kids that we're not looking for a moral victory," he said.
"I think we had better athletes, but we were out-coached and outplayed today. We had 31 seniors on our roster, and we should have won."