The call started off as a simple handoff to the right, the same sort of deliberate run Gaithersburg had used to march downfield for most of the fourth quarter against Whitman last night.

But by the time the play made its way over to junior quarterback Rodney Mickens, communication broke down, and he somehow interpreted it as a run to the left. The result was a broken play, and on third down with less than three minutes left, it signaled a potentially deflating mishap.

But Mickens gathered himself, eyed a clear path to the end zone and scampered down the left sideline 17 yards for what proved to be the winning score in the host Trojans' 19-7 victory.

"I just saw it, and I took it," said Mickens, whose touchdown put Gaithersburg ahead, 13-7. "When I saw nothing but green I took it. We took a lot of chances, and that chance was a good one."

Mickens said he was intent on rectifying the missed opportunities that had endangered Gaithersburg's chance at a victory -- such as the fumbled exchange only one play earlier and the missed field goal on the previous drive.

For Gaithersburg (1-0, 1-0 Montgomery 4A West), which last season missed the playoffs for the first time since 1996, the nature of the victory -- coming back and seizing control late in the game -- helped the Trojans learn a bit about their resiliency early in the season.

"I think the win gives them a little dose of confidence, especially under the circumstances," Trojans Coach Kreg Kephart said. "Despite missing a lot of scoring opportunities, these kids still came back. I think if we would have just come out and won 19-0, it wouldn't have been as much of a character builder."

Whitman fullback Pat Lazear rumbled for a game-high 101 yards on 15 carries. The junior helped set up a seven-yard touchdown pass from Greg Kingscott to Michael Lee late in the first half that gave the Vikings a 7-0 lead.

The game swung in Gaithersburg's favor late in the third quarter. Pinned deep in its own territory, Whitman (0-1, 0-1) was forced to punt to Travis Puckett. The senior running back fielded the kick, sliced through a herd of defenders and raced 61 yards down the middle of the field to tie the game at 7.

"That lit us up. That fired us up," Kephart said. "That brought the momentum to our side. It showed the kids that all they had to do is stop them. If [Whitman] doesn't score the rest of the way, we're going to win."

Whitman junior running back Pat Lazear is surrounded by Darius Smith (29) and a host of defenders in Gaithersburg's 19-7 season-opening victory.