Lackey 14, Northern 0

It was an innocent-looking sequence. On Northern's third offensive play against Lackey Friday night, A.J. Brown's five-yard run on third-and-4 gave the Patriots a first down.

But there was nothing innocent about the look Brown gave Northern Coach A.J. Berberian as he got up from the run.

The look said, "Uh-oh."

Brown had re-injured a left ankle that had bothered him the past two weeks. It was then that Northern found out just how big the 5-foot-6, 160-pound junior was to their offense.

He was big enough that the Patriots managed only 150 yards of total offense in the 14-0 loss to the Chargers.

When Northern lost its most explosive player -- the one with the potential to score each time he touched the ball -- the Patriots were forced to depend upon role players to make big plays.

"We knew we had to step it up in order to stay in this game," Northern senior defensive end Chad Staley said. "We wound up playing our hearts out, but we just couldn't get it done."

It was toughest on Brown to leave. He had overcome the injury well, averaging 165 yards over the previous six games, topping the 100-yard mark each time. Two series after coming out, he went back in but came out after one carry.

"I just wanted to do anything to help the team win," he said. "Anything."

It was especially tough that the injury had to happen in a game when Northern's playoff hopes essentially hung in the balance. The Patriots' only remaining chance of making the Maryland 3A South postseason rests on their defeating Patuxent next weekend, Lackey losing to McDonough and a few other results that would push Northern ahead of the Chargers in the playoff points standings.

"I saw their heads drop a bit," Lackey sophomore running back Mike Johnson said. "But I've got to give it to them; they really gave it some go. They played some great defense and never gave up."

If Northern wins next week, the Patriots will be the only Southern Maryland Athletic Conference team to win at least seven games each season since 2002. Northern, however, will probably have only one playoff appearance -- 2003 -- to show for it. And that hurts the Patriots more than Brown's ankle.

"It's right there," Staley said, "but it just keeps falling away from us."