Long Reach football coach Pete Hughes turned to Hollywood for inspiration for the undefeated Lightning before the team's contest against defending county champions and then-unbeaten Glenelg on Friday.
Hughes rented a movie theater for a showing of "Friday Night Lights," which chronicles the 1988 season of a west Texas high school football team seeking a state title.
"I wanted them to be inspired," Hughes said. "I wanted them to come together as a team and realize how big the opportunity we had against Glenelg was. We had to take advantage of it."
That's exactly what the Lightning did -- storming back from a three touchdown deficit to post a 42-33 victory, its first win over the Gladiators in five years.
Long Reach, River Hill and Mount Hebron all emerged from the weekend undefeated, each relying on a player who had been overshadowed for most of the season, like a supporting actor moving into a starring role.
"Every game becomes bigger, and you've seen the team you're playing several times on film so you know what they're going to do, and they also know what you're going to do," River Hill Coach Brian Van Deusen said. "So you can't rely on one player to win the game. You need players to step up and make plays, especially some guys who haven't had as big of a role."
For River Hill, it was junior running back Darol Smith, who rushed for a career-high three touchdowns and 156 yards on 10 carries to lead his team to a 38-12 victory over Douglass (Baltimore). Smith had rushed for 134 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries in the Hawks' first six games, about 400 fewer yards than senior Tyler Martin, the team's leading rusher.
Smith, who said he had not been pleased with his play in previous weeks, prepared not in a theater but in his back yard.
"I pretended that the trees were the defense, and I would spin around them and jump over stumps like they were linemen trying to tackle me," Smith said. "That got me into my zone."
For Mount Hebron, it was Aaron Maybin. The junior defensive end recorded a career-high four sacks -- including one that resulted in a safety -- and had four tackles and a forced fumble in a 30-8 victory at Oakland Mills.
The breakthrough performance by Maybin, who had not posted a sack this year, boosted the confidence of a Viking defense that been giving up an average of 14 points per game against teams with losing records.
"He had barely played the past few weeks and now that he's back, it's huge for us because having Aaron makes us a better defense, and they saw that against Oakland Mills," said Luthe, whose team is 7-0 for the first time since 1982. "That was the best he's been all season."
Long Reach senior receiver Kenny King accounted for all of his team's 158 receiving yards on four catches -- including a 55-yard touchdown reception from junior quarterback Ray Gilbert.
King had made only seven catches in the past five weeks, largely because Long Reach uses a run-oriented, single-wing offense that often does not put a wide receiver on the field.
"But I pretty much knew I could get open against Glenelg's defense because I've seen it on tape," King said. "I knew I could get open in the middle of the field and I would have room to run, and Ray did a good job of getting me the ball."
"We were down, and then we came back and that was the best performance in school history -- we have never played better," said Hughes. "I don't think Hollywood could have written a better script."
Now three coaches are eager to see if these players can build on their success of last week as they enter the final three weeks of the regular season in a tightly-contested race for the county title.
"A lot of the time if a player has a great game, it raises his confidence and he keeps getting better and better," Hughes said. "It was like I told our team after the movie: They have a chance to do something that 20 years from now they'll be able to reflect on what they did to help their team win."
Only two teams have the chance to remain undefeated after this weekend: River Hill hosts Long Reach at 2 p.m. on Saturday. Mount Hebron hosts Glenelg (6-1) at the same time.