With 3 minutes 55 seconds to play in the Maryland 3A state semifinal at Linganore, the rallying Lancers and reeling River Hill Hawks looked on as the officials carried the chains out to the middle of the field.

If the Lancers’ fourth-down run had moved from the 11-yard line to the 10, Linganore would have first and goal with a chance to take the lead. If it hadn’t, the Hawks would finally have caught a break after looking utterly defenseless in the second half.

The nose of the ball extended just far enough. The Lancers were set up for what would become their third unanswered score of the half. They’d add another touchdown and hold on to knock off the two-time defending state champion Hawks, 41-38.

“There’s a few teams out there that are just good or better,” River Hill senior linebacker Cory Daniel said. “We had a great year, we played a great team.”

With Daniel’s help, River Hill (10-3) dominated the first half, looking exactly how you’d expect defending champions to look. With a relentless blitz that charged nearly every play, the Hawks prevented the Lancers from running more than four plays on any drive, keeping the explosive Linganore attack without a first down for more than 16 minutes.

The Hawks lapsed for two big plays though, which Linganore converted to touchdowns, and carried only a 24-12 lead to halftime.

“We played pretty well for most of the game,” River Hill Coach Brian Van Deusen said. “We just gave up too many big plays.”

In the first half, when River Hill’s offense and particularly running back Kalonji Moore looked unstoppable, those big plays weren’t fatal.

But in the second half, Linganore solved the Hawks’ running game. Moore, who finished with 109 yards on 26 carries, stopped rushing for six or seven yards on each carry and was held to three or four. Passes that quarterback Drew Pritchard completed in the first half started dropping, or weren’t thrown at all as the Lancers crowded the backfield.

With the River Hill offense suddenly stalled, Linganore’s big plays started to add up.

“The unfortunate thing is we couldn’t stop them,” Van Deusen said. “They had long drives, we didn’t get the ball back for a while, and then they got the momentum.”

After that fateful fourth-down run, the Lancers scored to take the lead, and within a minute scored again on an interception return for a touchdown. That upped Linganore’s lead to 10 — a product of 29 unanswered points. A late River Hill score couldn’t revive the Hawks, whose lead had once been as big as 19 points.

“That’s the frustrating thing,” Van Deusen said. “I think we had this game.”