Long Reach dominates Atholton for first region football title; Moore throws 3 TDs passes (VIDEO HERE)

by Derek Toney

Back in early October, Long Reach High football coach Jamie Willis stood around the 10-yard line, trying to process a loss to Howard on Homecoming. It was the Lightning’ second straight loss and a season of high expectations was at a crossroad.

Fast to forward Friday evening and a water bucket-soaked Willis stood in the same spot moments after Lightning’s victory over Atholton. The 6-foot-4 former Youngstown State University tight end screamed, ran into the end zone and jumped up and down in a raucous celebration.

Long Reach gained its first state region championship with a 37-0 pounding of Howard County foe Atholton in the East final. Senior quarterback Ryan Moore threw for three scores for Long Reach (9-3 overall) and KaDarrian Booker rushed for 177 yards.

The Columbia school will play at No. 9 Milford Mill Academy or Frederick County’s Linganore in a state 3A semifinal Thanksgiving weekend. The Lightning goes to Milford Mill if the Millers defeat No. 16 Edgewood in the North final Saturday afternoon.

Long Reach put together its most complete effort, erasing the disappointment of last year’s first round home loss to River Hill. The Lightning, in their first postseason since 2005, was the East’s No. 1 seed.

With five first or second-team all-league performers back, Long Reach had arguably the most talented team in Howard County going into the 2017 season. The Lightning was 3-2 following a blowout loss at River Hill and the Homecoming loss to Howard.

Long Reach needed a week 10 victory over Atholton to qualify for the postseason.

“They just keep battling,” said an emotional Willis. “We talk about trusting each other and loving each other.”

“We thought we were going undefeated at the beginning of the season,” said Lightning senior defensive end Michael Zeleznik, whose team was upset by Reservoir in week nine. “We went out and beat Atholton by a point and been on a roll ever since. We’re finally playing to our potential.”

After the game’s opening drive, Zelenik and his defensive mates swallowed Atholton’s offense Friday. The Raiders managed just three first downs (two on opening drive) and its offense never crossed into Long Reach’s territory.

“We emphasized on stopping their counters, blowing up the guy pulling,” said Zeleznik. “We forced them to throw…that’s what we wanted to do.”

Moore, a first-year starter, paced an efficient Lightning offense. He threw two scoring passes to Quran Sims, the latter a nifty throw that Sims ran under and brought down in the end zone for a 27-yard touchdown late in the third quarter.

Moore tossed a strike to the end zone that Luis Gooden Jr. captured with a dive with just three seconds remaining in the first half for a 17-0 advantage. In the fourth, Booker made it 30-0 with a five-yard touchdown run, set by his 45-yard run where he kept a pile moving then broke away.

“That’s the plays they can make when they set their minds to it and are focused,” said Willis. “That’s the fun part about it, you can still see their growth. Every game it’s some different. Right now, they keep grinding.”

Julian Young recovered a fumble off a muffled kickoff return, and Antoine Booth intercepted a pass. Reserve back Rasheed Chapman’s 29-yard touchdown scamper got the running clock started with 4:30 left in regulation.

Cordell Carrington had an interception for Atholton (7-4), setting it up at Long Reach’s 37 with three minutes left in the first half. The Raiders managed just three yards before turning the ball over on downs. Long Reach went 66 yards in a little over two minutes, capped by Gooden’s catch with just three seconds left.

“Long Reach capitalize on explosive plays especially in the passing game,” said Atholton coach Justin Carey. “They let the ball rip and got it to their athletes. I’m proud of my team, especially my seniors, and my coaches for putting the kids in position to succeed.”

Despite the ups and downs, Willis said his seniors wanted to get back to the playoffs and atoned for last season’s early exit. The Lightning rallied past Chesapeake-Anne Arundel for its first playoff victory.

Long Reach made impressive history Friday.

“Everyone knows what they say about Long Reach in the community, but I tell my kids all the time this is one of the best communities in Howard County ,” said Willis in his fifth season.  “We’re multi-cultural, we get along and love each other. If you don’t go to school here, it’s hard to understand. Our fans love us, we love them and we’re going to continue to work for each other.”

Class 3A East Region final

Long Reach 37, Atholton 0

Thanks to the efforts of Luis Gooden Jr. (left), KaDarrian Booker, Ryan Moore and Michael Zeleznik, Long Reach is headed to its first state football semifinals. The Lightning routed Atholton in the Class 3A East Region final in Columbia Friday evening.

Long Reach 7 10 7 13 – 37

Atholton 0 0 0 0 – 0

First quarter

Long Reach – Sims 4 pass from Moore (Carbajal kick)

Second quarter

Long Reach – Carbajal 27 field goal

Long Reach – Moore 33 pass to Gooden (Carbajal kick)

Third quarter

Long Reach – Sims 27 pass from Moore (Carbajal kick)

Fourth quarter

Long Reach – Booker 5 run (kick failed)

Long Reach – Chapman 29 run (Carbajal kick)