River Hill senior Peter Ridge was worried. On his back after being tackled during the second play of the season, trainers and paramedics stabilized his right elbow and hoisted him onto a stretcher.

"I heard one of the people working on me say, 'It might be fractured,' " Ridge said. "As soon as I heard that, I thought my season was over, and I was never going to play football again."

Ridge was taken to Howard County General Hospital, where doctors quickly determined his elbow was hyperextended but not broken. Released from the hospital, Ridge made one request to his father.

"I wanted him to drive me back to the game," Ridge said.

Ridge sprinted through the ticket gate midway through the third quarter and a few minutes later, the team's best defensive player was back on the field -- as a waterboy.

"I think that says a lot about Peter when he comes back to support his teammates and gives them water," Coach Brian Van Deusen said. "That's why he's one of our captains."

Ridge was cleared to play three weeks later and has made up for lost time. The 6-foot, 195-pound middle linebacker has recorded 92 tackles -- a team-leading 13.1 per game -- along with a forced fumble and a recovery.

He's anchored a defense that allowed a county-low 75 points entering its first round game at second-seeded Long Reach (9-1) at 7 p.m. tomorrow.

"I know the next time we lose, I've played my last football game," Ridge said. "That's the way it is in sports: As you get older, you don't always get the chance to keep playing. That's why I want to make the most of this opportunity."

Ridge, who has a lacrosse scholarship to play at Sacred Heart, a Division I university in Fairfield, Conn., began playing football in eighth grade on a Columbia Bulldogs team that also featured current River Hill running back Kevin Magan and quarterback Daniel Hostetler.

"Even back in the day when he was wearing goofy braces, he was a big hitter," Magan said. "You could tell that he was going to be really good once he got to high school."

River Hill linebacker Peter Ridge.