Chopticon 22, Lackey 18

The clock hit zero Friday night, and Chopticon football players did what came naturally: found teammates and jumped into their arms.

The 22-18 victory at two-time Maryland 3A finalist Lackey was as big as any the program has had, with the exception of Chopticon's 2000 run to the Maryland 3A semifinals. It was vindication for the 4-0 Braves, who had heard all week that their undefeated start was a product of luck and opponents' shortcomings.

"What it shows is that we can play with the big boys," said first-year Chopticon coach Tony Lisanti, who after 17 years as a Braves assistant cannot remember the Braves ever starting the season with four victories. Lackey is "the epitome of what every team aspires to be. Perhaps we have arrived, but we know it's still a long season."

Even though six games remain in the regular season, Chopticon has surpassed last year's victory total and finds itself tied atop the Southern Maryland Athletic Conference with No. 8 Westlake, a 39-14 winner over McDonough. The two will not meet this season.

This talk might become moot because Chopticon's next two games are against Thomas Stone and Northern, which won games this weekend by a combined 95-0.

For right now, though, nothing can take the Braves off their high.

"We just beat Lackey," said junior quarterback Justin McVerry, who completed all four of his second-half passes for 95 yards. "I can't even believe it."

After stunning second-half comebacks the past two weekends to defeat Huntingtown and Patuxent, Chopticon proved it belonged on the same field as Lackey on the second play.

After Lackey's Dante Page intercepted McVerry on the first play from scrimmage, Chopticon forced a fumble on Lackey's first play. Senior lineman Clint Clearwater scooped it up on two hops and returned it 35 yards for a touchdown. The two-point conversion made it 8-0 just 26 seconds into the game.

"That was probably the biggest play of the game," said junior running back Darron Showalter.

After recovering a Chopticon fumble at the Braves' 24, Lackey cut the lead to 8-6 with 7 minutes 29 seconds to play in the first half on a run by sophomore Mike Johnson, who rushed for 156 yards on 21 carries.

Lackey took its first lead on the first possession of the second half when senior Aaron Smith hit junior Courtney Jackson on a 6-yard scoring pass to make it 12-8.

But Chopticon came right back on the next possession, capped by the first of Showalter's two 4-yard touchdown runs with 2:07 left in the third quarter. Showalter's second score came six minutes later to make it 22-12.

Lackey took possession with 4:28 to play at the Chopticon 29 and cut the lead to 22-18 on a 16-yard pass from Smith.

Lackey stopped Chopticon on fourth and 1 at the Chargers' 49 with 2:08 to play, and the past two weeks began to flash back for the Braves. Only this time, they appeared on the opposite end.

"That was a little scary," Showalter said. "Actually, it was really scary."

Two plays later, Johnson broke free for a 43-yard run down to the Chopticon 7, but it was called back for holding.

Still, without any timeouts, Smith hit Greg Bowman on a 13-yard pass and Page on a 15-yarder to get the Chargers down to the Chopticon 20 with 30 seconds to play.

After three incomplete passes, Braves junior Travis Vines batted away Lackey's last chance -- a pass to Page at the first-down marker with 18 seconds to play.

The celebration started to heat up, then took off when time ran out as Chopticon sealed its first victory over the Chargers since 1999.

"I'm just glad I can stop hearing people saying that you win games based on luck," McVerry said.