Aaron Smith has led Lackey to the Maryland 3A final. He has quarterbacked the Chargers to 18 victories over the past two seasons. But there was one task awaiting the senior at halftime last night at Thomas Stone.

Lackey Coach Scott Chadwick said, "I specifically told Aaron, 'You've done a lot of great things here, but one thing you've never done is lead us back in the second half.' "

With that directive, Smith put Lackey on his back as it erased a 17-point deficit and rallied for a 38-23 Southern Maryland Athletic Conference victory. Smith completed six of his final eight passes for 123 yards and three touchdowns to keep the Chargers' hopes alive for a Maryland 3A South Region playoff spot.

"Personally, I don't feel as if I've been doing as good as I should have been this season," said Smith, who passed for 1,707 yards last season. "But if the whole team could build off of this, especially myself, then we can do what we want to do."

Chief among that is get back to the postseason. Following Northern's 35-14 loss Thursday at Calvert, Lackey (5-2) essentially controls its postseason destiny. If the Chargers win their final three games, including Nov. 4 at Northern, they should return to the playoffs for the third straight season.

Late in the second quarter last night, that looked improbable.

Trailing 10-0 and facing a fourth and 10 at the Thomas Stone 22, Smith started to run before deciding to fling the ball toward the end zone. It landed in the hands of Thomas Stone's Patrick Swearinger, who darted up the middle of the field and, at about the 20, hit the right sideline where he ran untouched for a touchdown that made it 17-0 with 3 minutes 40 seconds to go in the first half.

"That was the biggest deficit we faced this season," Smith said. "We were worried about what might happen to us."

After a Lackey punt, Thomas Stone (4-3) fumbled at its own 36 with 57 seconds left. Clyde Jones recovered, and on the next play, Smith hit senior Dante Page for a touchdown. Mike Johnson ran in the two-point conversion.

"After that play, the sideline got into it, the crowd, the team, they all came back to life and we carried that into the second half," Page said.

Lackey scored on its first four second-half possessions. Senior fullback Bryan Gibbons scored the first of his three touchdowns on a six-yard run with 7:56 left in the third quarter to make it 17-15.

After Thomas Stone quarterback David Brunson hit Nekos Brown on a nine-yard scoring pass to make it 23-15, Smith calmly led the Chargers back with a pair of first-down passes to Gibbons and Page. Then on third and five, Johnson scored from 20 yards to tie it at 23.

On Lackey's next possession, Smith coolly executed a perfect play-action pass to Gibbons in the flat for an 18-yard touchdown reception to make it 30-23 with 8:40 left to play.

"He didn't just do it with his arm," Chadwick said, "he did it with his legs too."