Long Reach senior Kenny King waited patiently on the sidelines, knowing it was just a matter of time before he'd get the chance to prove against Wilde Lake why he's been his team's best receiver the past two seasons.
"I was waiting all game for that one moment to come," King said. "That's when I would get the chance to show what I could do."
King's time came with fewer than three minutes remaining, his team trailing by a touchdown and facing third-and-10 from the Wilde Lake 42-yard line. He cut across the field and caught a short pass from quarterback Ray Gilbert and turned upfield, weaving through the Wilde Lake secondary until he found the end zone. The score and Gilbert's extra point tied the game.
"I think that has to be the biggest play our team has ever made," said Long Reach Coach Pete Hughes, who has guided the team since the school opened in 1996. "Everyone knew we were going to pass, and for us to make a play like that was huge."
The Lightning's 17-14 comeback victory was completed a few minutes later after Gilbert made a 32-yard field goal with 46 seconds remaining following a Wilde Lake fumble, but it was King's play that set the stage to turn what would have been a tough loss into an uplifting victory.
"It seems every time we played a good team, we always would come up short, especially against Wilde Lake," said Gilbert, whose team beat Wilde Lake for just the second time in nine meetings. "I think this legitimizes us as one of the best teams in the county."
Long Reach (2-0 overall, 2-0 league) appeared on the verge of establishing itself among the county's elite in each of the past few seasons but struggled against the top teams. The Lightning was 20-10 the previous three seasons, but all 10 of its losses came against teams with winning records. It hasn't made the playoffs since 1997.
"In the past, the only time we would get on a winning streak was after we were already out of playoff contention," Hughes said. "What makes this team different is that when things were going bad for us, we didn't fold like we did the last few years."
After Long Reach took a 7-0 lead on sophomore running back Keith Richardson's 67-yard scoring run on the second play of the game, the Lightning held Wilde Lake (1-1 overall, 1-1 league) scoreless until the final minute of the third quarter. Wilde Lake became the first team to score on Long Reach in six games dating from last season when senior running back Nate Yarborough scored on a one-yard run to tie the game.
Wilde Lake forced Long Reach to fumble on its next possession and was primed to take the lead. But Long Reach's defense pulled off an impressive goal line stand, and Yarborough was tackled for a loss on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line.
"If we score right there, then the game's probably over, but they made a nice play to stop us," Wilde Lake Coach Doug DuVall said. "I still think we're a good football team, but we made some mistakes that you can't make if you want to win."
But Long Reach's offense did not move the ball and had to punt from near its goal line, which gave Wilde Lake good field position. The Wildecats capitalized by stringing together a drive that was capped by Yarborough's four-yard touchdown run to give his team a 14-7 lead with 4:53 left.
"The shutout streak we had going was never that important because all we were concerned most with was just winning games," Hughes said. "Our offense made some mistakes that hurt us, like with the turnovers, but I thought this was one of the better games we've played defensively."
Long Reach's players gathered in the end zone to revel in their victory, knowing they were one of four undefeated teams -- along with Glenelg, Mount Hebron and River Hill -- that will enter the heart of the season in the hunt for the county title.
"This could be the start of something special for us," King said. "After a game like this, we can sense we're on the verge of doing something big."