Chris Kelley, widely considered the best high school football player in the Washington area, felt dizzy, the result of a mild concussion. His team, top-ranked Seneca Valley, with the area's longest active winning streak, was getting all it could handle -- and then some -- from No. 4 Gaithersburg. But by the end of the night, everything seemed fine for the Screaming Eagles, and their winning streak increased to 35 games.
Running back Rafael Mason rushed for two touchdowns and Kelley scored the winning points on a splendid 15-yard touchdown run in the third quarter to lead Seneca Valley to a 21-14 victory over Gaithersburg in a nonleague game between Maryland powers before an overflow crowd of 6,000 at John Harvill Stadium.
The victory gave Seneca Valley (9-0) a Montgomery County public school record for consecutive victories. The previous record of 34 was set by Richard Montgomery from 1966 to 1969. As the final seconds ticked off the clock, some Seneca Valley players dumped a bucket of water on Coach Terry Changuris.
"This is the biggest game I've played in at Seneca," Kelley said. "It was unbelievable."
Gaithersburg (8-1) nearly tied the game with seven minutes remaining on a five-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Ian Hamilton to wide receiver Norman Smith on a fourth-down play. But the play was negated by an offensive pass interference penalty. In addition to losing the touchdown, Gaithersburg lost possession (in high school, offensive pass interference is a 15-yard penalty and loss of down).
Also, a holding penalty negated a 10-yard touchdown run by Trojans running back Jay Colbert in the second quarter. That proved costly because Gaithersburg failed to score on that drive as Seneca Valley's defense held on three consecutive plays from the 1-yard line.
"You can't do that against Seneca," said Gaithersburg Coach John Harvill, whose team was penalized 12 times for 108 yards. "You're not going to score much against them. They were legitimate calls. We did it and we should have been penalized."
The seven-point margin of victory was the narrowest of the season for the Screaming Eagles, who won their first eight games by at least 22 points.
Before the game, Changuris decided to run a balanced offense and limit Kelley's rushing attempts. The revised offense, with Damian Hall moving from tackle to tight end to provide better blocking, worked well on the game's opening drive. Seneca Valley moved 72 yards on 13 plays, with Mason scoring on a three-yard run for a 7-0 lead.
Seneca Valley appeared ready to take control of the game two plays later when nose guard David Cavell recovered a Gaithersburg fumble at the Trojans 23-yard line.
On second and 10, Kelley scrambled and threw incomplete toward wide receiver Anthony Pierouchakos in the end zone. After releasing the ball, Kelley took a hard hit from defensive lineman Kevin Neubeiser and took several seconds to get up. On the next play, Kelley was intercepted by Ron Frazier.
When he came to sideline, Kelley said he began to feel dizzy. And when Seneca Valley got the ball back after an interception by LeVar Scott, Changuris decided not to put Kelley back in the game.
"The doctor said he couldn't go back in until he was more coherent and gave us more information" when he was asked questions, Changuris said. "I could see he was a little wobbly and he wasn't making the right decisions. I told him he couldn't go back in until he convinced the doctors he was ready to go."
Kelley returned on Seneca Valley's next possession. He finished 5 of 13 for 50 yards and rushed for 94 yards on 16 carries.
"He had a mild concussion," team physician Neil Spiegel said at halftime. "He's been cleared" to play.
Said Changuris: "He's got such a tenacity, I don't know what you could do to keep him down. . . . He doesn't like getting knocked out of a game. He takes it personally."
Gaithersburg drew to 7-6 when Colbert returned the second-half kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown. The point-after kick was blocked.
Seneca Valley answered quickly. Two runs by Kelley, on the second of which he was tackled by the face mask for a 15-yard penalty, helped move the ball to the Gaithersburg 37. Mason (79 yards on 14 carries) then took a handoff up the middle, jumped through the hole and raced into the end zone for a 14-6 lead.
Later in the quarter, Kelley took a snap in the shotgun and ran up the middle, spinning away from a tackler for a 15-yard touchdown and a 21-6 lead.
Gaithersburg pulled to 21-14 on a five-yard touchdown run by Colbert and a two-point conversion pass from Hamilton to tight end Brian Jacobs with two minutes left in the third quarter. But the Trojans had seven penalties totaling 63 yards in the fourth quarter, including the ill-timed pass interference call.
"If we didn't have the penalties, we would have taken them to overtime," Frazier said. "It hurts. We lost."