In their four meetings over the past 12 months, Lackey and Westlake have known only one thing when they saw the opposing jersey -- hit it hard.
After Westlake senior Mike Lassiter collapsed on his own sideline with 26 seconds to go in Lackey's 21-7 victory in the Maryland 3A South Region final, it brought out softer, kinder emotions from both teams.
After being tended to for about 15 minutes by paramedics, Lassiter was taken by ambulance to Civista Medical Center in La Plata, where he was staying overnight for observation, said Westlake Coach Dominic Zaccarelli.
Still, the somber tone seemed misplaced between two such heated rivals.
"It's hard to celebrate after the way it ended," Lackey senior lineman Jeremy Hairston said. "We both have a lot of respect for one another. We've played four times the past two years, so we really know each other well."
Once the ambulance drove off, the teams lined up to shake hands in a manner that was a striking contrast to the end of Lackey's 13-7 victory two weeks ago in the regular-season finale. Instead of lazily slapping hands and not looking one another in the eye, players embraced one another. Westlake even extended well wishes to its rival.
"I wish them all the good luck," Westlake junior Aaris Reed said. "Hopefully someone from Southern Maryland will win it all."
Lassiter appeared to take a shot to the chest, which prompted his collapse. Teammate Derrell Jones immediately motioned for help.
The incident eliminated any potential misbehavior, cheap shots or taunting after the game.
"I can't say I'm glad it ended like this," Reed said. "But I am glad that everyone's calmed down a bit, just so that there's no more beef."
It would have been easy for Westlake to feel frustrated. The Wolverines had an impressive drive to open the game, culminating in a four-yard touchdown run by sophomore Kahill Permenter. Quarterback Buck Smith completed five of seven passes on the drive, including a 10-yarder to Permenter on fourth-and-2 at the Lackey 14.
But the Wolverines could not find the end zone again, despite two first-half turnovers by Lackey inside the Chargers' 30. Three more Westlake first-half drives ended inside the Lackey 35 with no points.
"After that," Hairston said, "we woke up and said we can't let them score again."
For the past month, Lackey has learned to be opportunistic on offense, knowing it cannot sustain long drives without injured All-Met running back Morgan Green. On Friday, Green (eight carries, 13 yards) was more of decoy to set up Lackey's passing game.
The Chargers picked their spots brilliantly to go deep through the air. Quarterback Aaron Smith hit Bryan Gibbons on a 68-yard scoring pass midway through the second quarter, when Lackey noticed a Westlake defensive lapse. Less than five minutes later, Smith hung in against a blitz and flung a bomb down to Devonte Williams, who was wide open thanks to the Westlake pressure up front.
"When you play somebody that many times, you know their tendencies," Hairston said, "and we took advantage of that."