Long Reach senior quarterback Ray Gilbert dropped back and scanned the field with his team facing a third and 10 from River Hill's 19-yard line with under a minute remaining in the game. Gilbert glanced left and saw two receivers blanketed by defenders. He looked right and saw a cornerback covering senior Charles Elmer but then saw something he liked.
"Jordan Metzger was running down the field wide open," Gilbert said. "I knew it was a touchdown."
Gilbert hit the seldom-used junior receiver in the middle of the end zone to pull his team within a point. Then Gilbert handed off to senior running back Josh Brown, who plunged across the goal line for a two-point conversion and a 15-14 victory.
Coach Pete Hughes called Metzger's play the biggest in school history. Long Reach can make the 3A East Region tournament -- and for the first time win at least a share of the county title -- by defeating Bowling Brook tomorrow and Mount Hebron on Nov. 11.
But what no one in the near-capacity crowd of 2,000 knew about the play was that it was unscripted. Long Reach has dozens of passing plays but none Hughes felt would work against a defense that lines up four secondary players in a row several yards off the line of scrimmage.
"At that point, I made up a play on the spot -- in the biggest game of the season, no less," Hughes said. "It was sandlot football, the kind you play when you're a kid. I just drew it up and hoped it would work."
It did. Junior receiver Keith Richardson ran to the corner of the end zone, and senior tight end Darryl Webb ran 10 yards and turned around. Elmer ran straight and then cut to the outside, but Metzger ran straight and after brushing past a linebacker, cut to the vacated middle of the field.
"As I saw Ray throw the ball, everything was in slow-motion, and I was just praying that I would catch it," said Metzger, who entered the game with one career catch. "When I caught it, I was in the end zone, and no one was there."
Hughes had to call an impromptu play. He said River Hill's players were shouting Long Reach's plays just before each snap, a result of River Hill's meticulous research into nearly every formation and play Long Reach ran earlier this season.
River Hill is one of many county teams that downloads opponents' game films and uses a computer program to diagram plays for the team to study.
"It got to the point where I was saying, 'My God,' because River Hill's players were saying what we were going to do before we ran the play," Hughes said. "Give them credit: They did an excellent job scouting us."
"When Long Reach faces a third and long, we knew everything they did, so when they scored a touchdown I was surprised because we never saw that play before," River Hill junior linebacker Greg Nowak said. "We didn't know where it came from."
Long Reach's adjustment was a major reason for its first win over the Hawks in four years. Last year, River Hill dominated the Lightning in a 52-21 victory.
"This late in the season, every coach in this county has seen everyone play so many times and has a lot of film on them," Hughes said. "So when I knew we had our last chance to score, I just looked for some place I thought we could attack, and then made up a play. They couldn't have known what we were doing because we'd never run that play before."
The Hawks entered the day holding the second seed in the 3A East Region playoff point standings but now need help to make the postseason because Annapolis's forfeit victory over Old Mill moved the Panthers into the fourth spot behind Severna Park (7-1), North Harford (7-1) and Long Reach.
River Hill is fifth in a race for four playoff spots.
The Hawks must win their final two games -- against Mount Hebron (5-3) tomorrow and at Howard on Nov. 11 -- and need either North Harford, Long Reach or Annapolis to lose once.
"Every game for us now is a playoff game," River Hill senior linebacker Peter Ridge said. "We have to treat it like it's the state championship game."
"I feel bad for River Hill because that's a really good team," Hughes said. "But right now, I like where we're at. I told our guys before the game that somebody on our team who has not gotten a lot of recognition would be the one to win the game for us.
"And in the biggest game we've ever had, it turned out to be Jordan Metzger scoring a touchdown on a play we never ran before."