Nothing stood between Jarard Cribbs and a game-changing play except his own excitement. Nobody lined up opposite the Lackey junior when Northern attempted a second-quarter punt. Cribbs was racing against the ball.

"They didn't have enough guys blocking, and I saw the opening," Cribbs said. "I got a good jump on the ball."

Cribbs blew into the backfield and smothered the punt, which Lackey downed at the Northern 1-yard line. On the next play, quarterback Aaron Smith snuck into the end zone to close out the scoring in Lackey's 14-0 Southern Maryland Athletic Conference victory at Northern in a game with major playoff implications for both teams.

It was Lackey's seventh blocked punt this season.

"We practice it all the time," said Cribbs, who was joined in the Northern backfield on the play by senior teammates Shawn Frazier and Marty Greenwood, both of whom also came in unblocked. "You go full speed. You can't be scared out there."

Six weeks after the two-time Maryland 3A finalist lost consecutive games and appeared on the verge of a mediocre season, Lackey (7-2) has won five straight, and is almost assured of a spot in the 3A South playoffs. The Chargers would have to lose next week at McDonough (6-3), have Northern (6-3) beat Patuxent (5-4), and also have a few other results go in the Patriots' favor for Northern to move past Lackey in the points standings.

"It felt kind of funny," senior lineman J.B. Walton said. "It was different from the past couple of seasons, because when we came down to the end of the season, we knew we were going to the playoffs."

Lackey held Northern to 150 yards of total offense, but that was helped largely when Northern's leading rusher, junior A.J. Brown, left the game on the Patriots' first offensive series after aggravating an ankle injury that had bothered him the past two weeks. Brown had shaken it off well, rushing for 200 yards last week to raise his season total to 1,117 yards.

He tried to come back two series later, but left after one play. Once he left the game, Northern lost its most explosive offensive player.

"When A.J. went down, a couple of guys dropped their heads," Northern senior defensive end Chad Staley said. "We had to pick them up, and we did, but it was tough going without him."

Lackey took the lead with 6 minutes 42 seconds left in the first half when Smith found senior Greg Bowman on a beautiful crossing pattern. Bowman tipped the pass to himself without missing stride and burst past the Northern secondary untouched for a 46-yard touchdown.

After Northern went three and out on the next series, Cribbs blocked the punt to set up the final score of the game.