Long Reach senior quarterback Ray Gilbert can start a fire with a magnifying glass, make a basket out of wicker rods and use a rifle, and the merit badges he earned acquiring those skills have helped him become better at something else: football.

"I think being in Boy Scouts taught me how to be a leader," Gilbert said. "It didn't teach me how to be a better football player, but I learned what it takes to lead."

Long Reach has players who are bigger, faster and more experienced than Gilbert, but none who match his leadership. Gilbert's composure in close games provides a calming influence for a team eager to make school history by winning its first playoff game.

"Ray's the glue that keeps the whole thing together," Coach Pete Hughes said. "There are times that even when I'm jumping down his throat, he keeps his composure and then goes out and makes a big play. One thing about Ray, he's always poised."

The two-year starter has a record of 18-3 entering tomorrow night's home game against third-seeded River Hill (9-1) at 7 in the first round of the 3A East Region tournament. Gilbert has completed 37 of 82 passes for 668 yards with 10 touchdowns and seven interceptions this season as he has orchestrated a single-wing offense that also features two running backs who have each rushed for at least 680 yards.

"I think what makes Ray so good is that he's patient," said River Hill Coach Brian Van Deusen. "In past years, Long Reach would always have a quarterback that would force things by running if he didn't see a receiver open. But Ray's developed into a good pocket quarterback who can find the open receiver."

Gilbert's biggest throw of his career came against River Hill last month, when he found Jordan Metzger over the middle for a 19-yard touchdown with under a minute to play. Senior running back Josh Brown's two-point conversion lifted the Lightning to a 15-14 victory, ending the Hawks' 16-game county winning streak dating to 2003.

"One of our goals was to win the county title, and we had to beat River Hill to do that," Gilbert said. "Now, we want to win a playoff game. If we can do that, I think this team will leave a lasting impression for everyone to remember us by."

Long Reach quarterback Ray Gilbert.