Like a small tremor before a massive earthquake, the signs were there.
The Harlem High School football team advanced to the state playoffs last season for the first time since 1974. The Bulldogs opened 2001 with even better play and seemed on the verge of something big.
On Saturday night at Academy of Richmond County Stadium, Harlem shook the local football scene with a seismic 19-7 victory over the Lucy C. Laney High School Wildcats.
''To be honest, you're sitting there wondering how good you are," Harlem coach Jimmie Lewis said during the post-game celebration. ''To win over a team like Laney, as good as they are and with the things they've done, if our coaches and players don't realize we're a good football team and can beat anybody we play, we probably never will realize that."
The Dogs didn't just win, they dominated the Cats in front of the Laney homecoming crowd. The Laney fans had little to cheer about, and when Harlem quarterback Domonique Brown broke free on an 80-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter, the Wildcat faithful quietly filed out of ARC stadium.
''It may have taken the air out of them, but it gave me new breath," Lewis said of the clinching score. ''I felt great after that."
Harlem took a 6-0 lead in the first quarter. During the drive, Brown completed key passes to Michael Hawkinberry and Tim Camp. Larry Crawford capped the march with a short run.
Laney countered with a touchdown run. The Cats tacked on the extra-point kick and held a 7-6 halftime lead.
Harlem adjusted its blocking scheme in the second half, using its A-backs to seal off the Laney cornerbacks. The plan worked, as the Dogs controlled the clock with their triple-option offense.
Crawford gave Harlem the lead in the third with a nifty cutback run which resulted in a 26-yard score.
On defense, the Harlem line held its ground, which freed up linebackers Crawford, Tae Dorsey, Kelvin Sturgis and Josh Wilmoth to make tackles. That, in turn, forced Laney to the air, with disastrous results.
Harlem sophomore Tim Camp intercepted two passes in the fourth quarter, including a pick-off in the end zone to thwart a Wildcat threat.
''When we made that interception down at the goal line, I knew it was our time right then," Crawford said.
After Camp's interception, Brown took the option around the left end, weaved his way to the final touchdown and iced the landmark victory.
''This is the best feeling in the world, the biggest win in school history," Wilmoth said as teammates, coaches and parents partied at midfield.
Harlem improved its record to 3-1-1, and remained unbeaten in Region 3-AAA at 2-0. The Dogs play host to Academy of Richmond County in a region contest this Friday.
When the 7:30 p.m. kickoff arrives, Harlem will be ready to rumble - again.
''Harlem football is on the right track now. We have people working hard in the weight room and keeping their grades up," Brown said. ''I'm really glad to see this happen. Harlem football has come a long way and it's only going to get better."
''To win over a team like Laney, as good as they are and with the things they've done, if our coaches and players don't realize we're a good football team and can beat anybody we play, we probably never will realize that."
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