Atholton hands No. 13 Long Reach first loss; four-way tie for first in Howard County football

Kevin Smitson’s clutch running in the fourth helped Atholton moved closer to the Howard County football crown. Smitson had a pair drive-continuing third down runs as the No. 20 Raiders defeated 13th-ranked Long Reach, 7-6, in Columbia.

by Demetrius Dillard

Special to VSN

After eight weeks, the Howard County football championship race is officially a “free-for-four.”

No. 20 Atholton High defeated 13th-ranked and previously undefeated Long Reach, 7-6, in Columbia Friday evening. Meanwhile, No. 19 Oakland Mills outlasted River Hill, 6-0, while 16th-ranked Glenelg handled Marriotts Ridge, 35-14.

Atholton (7-1 Howard and overall), Glenelg (6-1, 7-1), Long Reach (7-1, 7-1) and Oakland Mills (7-1, 7-1) are tied for first with one loss, heading into Halloween weekend – the final weekend of the public high school regular season.

Atholton’s defense forced two early turnovers and found ways to disrupt Long Reach’s offensive rhythm all game to eke out a victory, handing the Lightning their first loss of the season.

Running back Julius Saunders, Long Reach’s premier offensive weapon, scored his team’s only touchdown in the second quarter. Though the 5-foot-9 senior finished with 108 yards rushing on 28 carries, the Raiders kept him at bay most of the evening.

“We knew we had to stop him (Saunders). It all goes through him,” Atholton coach Eric Woodson said.“He’s a hard, tough-nose runner. You’re not going to stop him, but we [just tried to] contain him in the box. We did the best we could there, so that was big.”

Late in the first, John Prajka recovered a Saunders fumble, putting the Raiders in scoring position. Harrison Feldman found Tra Evans for a 17-yard touchdown.

Saunders answered for Long Reach with 27 seconds left before halftime, but the hosts missed the point after.

Big plays, missed opportunites and penalties was the story for the remainder of the evening.

In the fourth, Long Reach advanced to the Raiders’ 23 with four minutes left. The Lightning turned the ball over on downs.

Atholton turned to Kevin Smitson to secure the win. The senior had a 22-yard run on 3rd down, and followed with a 20-yard 3rd down run, enabling the Raiders to bleed the clock.

“That’s all the blockers. Putting those two big running backs in front of me – that’s all that is,” Smitson said. “Sealing off the outside linebackers, sealing off the corners… made me get open space.”

The Raiders, who last won the HoCo football crown in 2011, can secure a piece with a home victory over Mount Hebron this Friday. Glenelg can claim a share with a victory over Reservoir.Long Reach, averaging nearly 27 points per contest entering Friday, was held to their lowest output of the fall. The Lightning had a chance to secure a piece of the HoCo crown Friday, but now, must win at Oakland Mills next Friday.

“We got to cut out the mistakes,” said Long Reach coach Jamie Willis. “If we don’t make the mistakes we’ve had tonight, it’s a different game.”

“For my guys, we’ve been telling them all year it’s the little things, the little things. The penalties, the jumping offsides – all these things – the turnovers, the missed blocks. When you play against good teams, those show up and that’s what happened tonight.”

No. 20 Atholton 7, No. 13 Long Reach 6

Atholton 7 0 0 0 — 7

Long Reach 0 6 0 0 — 6

First quarter

Atholton – Evans 17 pass from Feldman (Benjamin Gershuny kick)

Second quarter

Long Reach – Julius Saunders 2 run (kick failed)