Ed Ashwell, like any rookie head football coach, never will forget his first victory.
Then again, few people associated with Glenelg's20-19 victory at Mount Hebron Saturday will forget the incredible comeback that rescued the Gladiators from the jaws of an 0-7 record.
Glenelg recovered two fumbles -- both by linebacker Matt Gardner -- and scored 14 points in the final three minutes to erase a 19-6 deficit in a game marked as much by its sloppiness as its excitement.
The game produced ineptitude befitting two teams with a combined 1-11 record. The Gladiators and Vikings shared eight turnovers and 155 yards in penalties. They dropped passes. They missed tackles. They botched handoffs. They blew pass coverages.
But to Ashwell, so stunned after the final whistle that he stood expressionless and apart from his celebrating players, the last three minutes may have been the most beautiful mess he's ever witnessed.
"When you're struggling, you need breaks," said Ashwell, who left Wilde Lake after 10 years as an assistant to take over the rebuilding Gladiators. "This was the first time we found a way to win. It was the first time the kids had that look in their eye. We didn't play well, but I'm very happy for thekids. They're tired of losing, too. They deserve this."
With Centennial, Hammond and Wilde Lake remaining on their schedule, the Gladiators may reflect on just one victory after this season.
But what an ending to daydream about.
Hebron had taken a 19-6 lead with 6:12 left in the game on Travis Hairston's 13-yard TD run, made possibleby Glenelg's fourth turnover. On their next possession, the Gladiators drove 60 yardsto the Hebron 18, only to be thwarted by their fifthturnover, an interception at the 9 by Hebron defensive back Greg Toney.
The clock read 3:40. The fun was just beginning.
"We didn'tgive up, but we knew if we didn't come up with something big, it wasover," said Glenelg running back Jason Beall, who would fulfill his prophecy. "Hebron had lost all their county games. If we couldn't beat them, we knew we weren't going to beat anybody else."
All the Vikings had to do was hold the ball, burn the clock.
But on second-and-15 on their 4-yard line, Glenelg tackle Hunter French ran unblocked into the backfield as quarterback Phil Tonkins was completing a shaky handoff to Hairston. A split-second after the handoff, French hit Hairston. The ball popped loose, rolling into the end zone, where Gardner pounced on it. Beall's extra-point attempt died in a stiff head wind, but Hebron's lead had been cut to 19-12.
"That fumble in theend zone was the first break we've had all year," Ashwell said.
The clock read 3:04. Three plays after an unsuccessful onside kick by Glenelg, the Vikings committed their biggest mistake by losing their third fumble. Gardner fell on that one at the Hebron 44. The clock read 1:53.
Four plays later, on a critical fourth-and-five at the 39, Glenelg quarterback Andy Leedom found a wide-open James McKinney inthe right flat. McKinney ran for 15 more yards before being tackled atthe 16. Running back Paul Brosenne ran two yards to the 14. Then, after Glenelg's final timeout with 40 seconds left, Brosenne gained 13yards to the 1. Beall ran the final yard with 19 seconds to go to pull the Gladiators to 19-18.
Ashwell never thought about kicking for the tie. Offensive coach Dean Sheridan wanted to run a pass play for the two-point conversion. The players wanted to run. Sheridan, who had watched the Gladiators rush for 262 yards, gave in. "We promised them (the coaches) we would get it in," said Beall. "We knew we could."
Beall delivered. Taking the handoff at the 4, he was hit by Brian Machiran at the 2. Beall dragged Machiran for a yard, before falling with his outstretched arm toward the end zone. The ball came down just over the goal line.
The clock showed 19 seconds. A 1-6 recordnever looked so good.
By Sunday morning, Ashwell had received numerous congratulatory phone calls, including one from Wildecats coach Doug DuVall, who celebrated his 151st victory on Saturday.
"It (the losing) has been tough on the players and especially tough on the coaching staff," said Ashwell, who had battled some sleepless nights during the six-game losing streak. "It weighs heavily on your mind, nomatter how much people say it's a rebuilding year.
Ashwell entered the Hebron game contemplating his worst nightmare. "My biggest feargoing into the season was not winning a game," he added. "I thought we would have two or three wins coming into this game."
The year had been frustrating enough. Glenelg lost its first four games by a combined 36 points and was coming off three-touchdown defeats against Oakland Mills and Atholton.
Hebron offered Glenelg its best chance to send Ashwell home a winner.
First, the Vikings were 1-5 and riding a four-game losing streak, during which they had been outscored, 120-39.