It’s the most basic childhood football game, and it’s become something of a pre-practice ritual for the Glenelg football team.

Before practices, one player will throw the ball into a gaggle of potential receivers. Sometimes the ball falls harmlessly to the ground, and other times the winner emerges from the crowd with his prize.

Brent Richardson excels at that game. Running back Jared Jacoby says the lanky junior wide receiver wins almost every ball. But Richardson never imagined that it would help him in a game situation like it did Friday night in Ellicott City.

With six seconds left in the first half and the Gladiators trailing Centennial, Richardson leapt for an underthrown ball on the goal line. He ripped it out of the defender’s hand and waltzed into the end zone, shifting the momentum of the game and propelling Glenelg to a 21-3 win.

It was Richardson’s only catch of the game, but he made it count.

“It’s one of the best feelings in the world. Everyone dreams of that big-time situation where you can make a play like that,” Richardson said. “I had to try to reach over because the ball was a little short. But once I had it in my hands, that was it.”

Rather than enter halftime trailing by three points, the Gladiators (7-1, 7-1 Howard County) took a 7-3 lead into the break and emerged as a completely different team. They moved the ball with ease for much of the third quarter thanks to a few coaching adjustments and the vision of Jacoby at running back.

After being held to nine yards on five carries in the first half, the 5-foot-8, 145-pound senior running back got an earful at halftime. Glenelg’s coaching staff told Jacoby to stop trying to bounce everything outside and take what the defense was giving him. He finished with 119 yards and one touchdown.

“The line was opening up huge holes in the second half, and I was cutting it up,” he said. “That’s all there was to it.”

Glenelg’s defense was equally impressive after halftime, relentlessly pressuring Centennial quarterback Tyler Morris and causing three second-half sacks. The Eagles didn’t do much to help their own cause, committing eight penalties that amounted to 65 yards. Their lone points came on a 30-yard field goal by Nick Cooper in the second quarter.

The game had significant ramifications in the muddled 3A East region. With the loss, Centennial’s odds of reaching the playoffs for the first time since 1980 took a significant hit. Meanwhile, the win all but secured a postseason berth for Glenelg, which will play Long Reach and Atholton — who had a combined one win entering Friday night — in the final two weeks of the regular season.

“It’s one step at a time in this conference,” Coach Butch Schaffer said. “We play every game the same. We treat every game the same. Those teams are going to work their tails off, and we’re going to be ready.”