Cornerback Norman Smith dropped back into coverage, all the while watching the eyes of Severna Park quarterback Chris Odom. As Odom threw the ball toward his intended target, Smith read the play and already was there waiting.

Smith reached up and grabbed the ball near the 50-yard line, then returned it for a touchdown with 18 seconds remaining to secure No. 6 Gaithersburg's 13-0 victory over No. 11 Severna Park last night in a Maryland 4A semifinal at Gaithersburg High School.

In the 4A state final next week at Byrd Stadium, Gaithersburg (11-1) will play the winner of today's game between eighth-ranked Eleanor Roosevelt and Patterson. Severna Park ended its season 10-2.

"I just jumped out in front of the ball and got two hands on it," said Smith, who blocked a field goal attempt earlier. "I made a few moves and ran it all the way.

"I'm so happy, I don't know what to say. We started this thing back on Aug. 15. I knew we could do it."

Smith's touchdown sent Gaithersburg players watching along the sideline into a frenzy. They spilled onto the field, resulting in two unsportsmanlike penalties for excessive celebration. But Gaithersburg Coach John Harvill, who had been ejected for arguing a call midway through the fourth quarter, did not care.

"They deserved to celebrate," Harvill said. "I didn't care how many penalties they got."

Junior running back Semaj Richardson, who has filled in nicely for the injured Jay Colbert the past three weeks, started again last night for Gaithersburg and rushed for 146 yards. It was his third consecutive 100-yard performance.

Colbert, the school's all-time leading rusher, was used sparingly, rushing five times for 41 yards before leaving the game in the third quarter limping. He apparently reinjured his sprained left ankle and did not return.

"I'm just filling in for Jay, doing what I had to do," said Richardson, who rushed for 193 yards last week. "It's a big job. He's got some big shoes to fill."

Gaithersburg scored its first touchdown late in the first quarter on a two-yard run by fullback Ronald Frazier. His score and Kevin Riordan's extra point with 4 minutes 40 seconds left in the first period made it 7-0.

Those were the only points Gaithersburg could muster until Smith's interception. The Trojans made mistakes on both sides of the ball, including three interceptions thrown by quarterback Ian Hamilton in the first half. But Severna Park was having problems of its own.

"We were a little tense, and we were frustrated," Harvill said. "We hung onto that seven-point lead, but we knew in the back of our minds that they could come back at any moment. We just couldn't put them away."

CAPTION: Quarterback Chris Odom of Severna Park draws the attention of a Gaithersburg defender. Gaithersburg earned a trip to the Maryland 4A state final.