Kyle Smith ran to the right and saw a gang of defenders clad in navy blue. Churchill's senior running back tried to cut back, five yards behind the line of scrimmage, only to be swarmed by three would-be tacklers, one of whom grabbed him by the jersey.
"It wasn't looking good," said Smith, who had not practiced all week because of lower back pain.
However, nearly every time the forecast seemed gloomy last night for the Bulldogs, somehow things went right. Smith bounced off the pile of defenders and, while others seemingly had given up on the play, he found easy going down the right sideline for a 10-yard touchdown run. The run helped lift Churchill to a 14-13 victory over host Gaithersburg in a Montgomery 4A West Division season opener in front of 1,200 fans at John Harvill Stadium.
In addition to Smith's stunning touchdown run, Churchill kicker Nick Scrivens -- also the team's backup quarterback -- completed a 22-yard pass on fourth down with the special teams unit on the field, setting up another score. Then the Bulldogs hung on in the fourth quarter by blocking a potential game-tying extra point and making a defensive stand in their own end of the field after failing to convert on fourth and inches.
"Things are falling into place," said senior wide receiver Sekou Yansane, who made a juggling catch of Scrivens's pass. "This is our year, the year of the Bulldogs."
Though it is only one game into the season, Churchill is confident that last night's victory was a key starting point as it tries to make the playoffs for the first time since 1995. Gaithersburg has made the playoffs seven consecutive seasons and had not lost to Churchill since 1993 -- a streak that seemed like it might continue even after the Bulldogs scored on their first two drives to take a 14-0 lead.
Gaithersburg started to rally when quarterback Joey Robinson threw a 13-yard pass to tight end Stephan Johnson on the last play of the first half. Then, after successfully running the ball out of the shotgun, Robinson scored a one-yard quarterback sneak early in the fourth quarter to bring the Trojans within 14-13.
But the point-after kick was low and Yansane blocked it, keeping Churchill in front. The Bulldogs had to come up with one more defensive stop after turning the ball over on downs at their 45-yard line. Gaithersburg got the ball back one more time, at its 26, out of timeouts and with less than three minutes left. Churchill safety Matt Leemhuis then intercepted a pass and the Bulldogs ran out the clock.
"That's a huge win for us," Churchill Coach Jamie Collins said. "If we want to make the playoffs, this is a game we had to win."