Nick Lynch got up a few hours earlier than usual Saturday. So did Terrill Williams.
Lynch, the Suitland High football coach, was even more anxious than he normally is on game day, knowing he had to sit out his team's 4A South Region semifinal against Oxon Hill, the result of a one-game suspension for pulling his team off the field last season.
"I couldn't sleep, thinking about what I was going to do" in place of going to the game, Lynch said.
Williams, the Suitland defensive coordinator, also was anxious because of what he had to do: serve as interim head coach for the day. At 4 a.m., the 35-year-old Williams -- still in his pajamas -- was walking outside his Forestville apartment to see what the weather was like and make certain the previous day's rain had stopped. Then he went back inside and played video games before dozing off for another hour.
"I had to get rid of some stress and nerves," said Williams, who compared the feeling to his wedding day in terms of how nervous he was. "I didn't want to make any mistakes or be indecisive in any way."
A few hours later, as the sun rose on a blustery day, the coach and his surrogate went about their pregame rituals. Lynch, even though he was not going to coach and still had no idea how he would spend a Saturday off during football season, was at a Glenarden barbershop by 8 a.m., where his cousin and assistant coach, Glenn Royal, gave him a quick cut. He was at the school by 8:45 to organize uniforms and make sure the scoreboard worked properly.
Unbeknown to Lynch, he drove past Williams as he pulled into the school parking lot. Williams did not want to seem too eager but was ready so early that he tried to waste as much time as possible; still, he beat Lynch to school by 15 minutes. By 7 a.m., Williams had already shaved his head, trimmed his beard, ironed his red Suitland golf shirt and black gym shorts. He then stopped at Starbucks for a vanilla latte and 7-Eleven for a pack of gum, drove around aimlessly and eventually pulled into the school parking lot, where he reclined in the driver's seat and waited.
"I didn't want Nick to think I was being too anxious," Williams said.
It was that kind of day. Lynch, who had to relinquish control of his team, wanted to do as much as possible to make sure things went right. Williams, who has coached for Lynch since 1996, wanted to do as much as possible to not let down his boss.
Williams, normally focused on the defense, had to concern himself with all aspects of the team and was unable to do as much coaching on the sideline. Lynch, meantime, wound up wandering local malls and phoning his wife and Suitland boys' basketball coach Tyrone Massenburg for updates every few minutes.
At one point, Lynch thought about getting on the Beltway and driving into Virginia, but did not want to stray too far from school, so he settled into the parking lot of a McDonald's in Fort Washington. There, he was on the phone with his wife with Suitland leading 12-0 in the fourth quarter but punting from deep in its own end. He heard the crowd roar.
As Lynch fretted about a big punt return that might make the game close, Williams marveled at what he was seeing. During practice the week before, Suitland's coaches had talked to players about the middle of the field possibly being open on punts. If the opportunity was there, they said, the Rams should take advantage.
But on fourth-and-13 from the Suitland 15-yard line? Not a situation that normally calls for a fake punt. But long snapper Tyrone Washington snapped the ball to up-back Mike Howard, who took off on what would be an 85-yard touchdown run, sealing a 19-0 victory that culminated with Williams getting a bucket of water dumped on his head in celebration.
Lynch was back at school about 30 minutes after the final whistle. The first person he saw was Washington, who said the fake punt was not his idea. Howard also denied responsibility, as did punter Navorro Bowman, who noted, "I told them the head coach would kill us if he knew."
A round of applause greeted Lynch upon his return, and then he headed to his office to begin looking at film and preparing for Saturday's regional final against C.H. Flowers. Watching the game unfold on a television screen was an unusual experience and not one that Lynch wants to repeat.
"It's one of those things that make you have a lump in your stomach," Lynch said. "I've never experienced anything like that and I'll never [again] experience anything like that. . . . It wasn't a good feeling to say the least. Especially if things didn't work. I would have been kicking myself."
Williams would have done more than kick himself if things had not gone well. He told his mom that he would be through with coaching if the Rams lost. Winning, though, was a pretty good feeling.
"I had a ball," Williams said. "If it happens again, I wouldn't want to be anywhere else. But I don't want it to happen again. Trust me."