Perryville and North East football previews
PERRYVILLE — Inexperience, injuries and close losses last season contributed to Perryville’s first losing campaign under head coach Chris Johnson.
Yet, despite finishing with a 4-6 record, including just one road victory, the Panthers found themselves just a single victory shy of securing the fourth—and final— spot in what was a down year in the race for the 1A East Region postseason.
“To me, overall, last year was a frustrating but rewarding experience,” said Johnson, who enters his sixth season on the Perryville sideline. “When you have youth you tend to make a lot of mistakes. They don’t understand the attention to detail that it takes to be a good football team—the little things.
“Now we’re a year in and they’re a year older, a year stronger, a year faster and they’ve worked hard in the weight room so our expectations this year are a lot higher than they were last year. The kids are working hard and you can tell they want to be good.”
Johnson will look to a pair of seniors to lead the way after the duo experienced their first full season as starters in 2015.
Quarterback Dominic Gugliotta returns as a senior after showcasing an ability to throw from the pocket and make plays on the run last season, finishing the year with 1,070 passing yards, 101 rushing yards and 10 combined touchdowns in nine games.
“It’s definitely a comfort factor being the starter again this year. I’m excited to build around this team and I think we have a good shot to do really well this year,” Gugliotta said. “It was different [being the starter last year]. You get more reps than usual in practice, the team was real nice to me as I grew through it and it was a good experience. Hopefully it will have an impact this year.”
Senior fullback Zac Zacerous, who rushed for 1,005 yards and 12 scores on 141 carries last season, will join his quarterback as a veteran leader in the huddle. He will also anchor the Panthers’ defense as a linebacker following a junior campaign in which he earned All-County honors and a spot on the All-State honorable mention squad. Last year, Zacerous made 106 total tackles, including 15 for a loss, and 7.5 sacks.
“Last year I got to step up as a leader for the team and this year it gets to carry over into my senior year. Hopefully I get to lead these guys far,” Zacerous said. “The seniors this year are more leaders. Not to take anything away from last year’s seniors but this year’s seniors are more hungry. They’re ready to win a state championship.”
Gugliotta, who missed part of one game and all of another with a concussion, represented one of several players on the Panthers sidelined with injuries.
“Last year was tough because of the injuries,” said Zacerous, one of only three players on the defense to appear in all 10 games. “Without most of [the injuries] we would have had a successful season. People had to step up into new positions and we worked through it.”
Junior Bailey Armour also returns after receiving a spot on the All-County squad and the All-State honorable mention team as a kicker/punter. He is expected to step up as a leader along with senior guard/defensive lineman Cullen McCoy, who has been on varsity every year since he was a freshman.
“I think we’re definitely better than last year. I’m very hopeful for the future,” McCoy said. “I think this team has grown a lot, especially since last year. We were real young last year. and everyone knew that.
“I don’t know if teams are sleeping on us because everyone knows we went to the state championship five year ago [in 2011],” McCoy added. “Everyone wants to beat us. We just have to play games well and play at a high level.”
Part of the Panthers’ success this season will hinge on winning close games. Last year, Perryville lost to eventual 3A playoff team Aberdeen and 1A state runnerup Havre de Grace despite trailing by one score in the third quarter against both opponents.
Perryville’s one-score loss to Cecil County rival Bohemia Manor in early October perhaps ended the Panthers’ postseason hopes. The Eagles, which ended the regular season 5-5, secured the final East Region playoff spot, eventually falling to Havre de Grace in the opening round.
“The nice thing about last year was, as you watched it, even with youth and the injuries … I saw improvement throughout the year. As a coach, that’s all you can ask for,” Johnson said. “If the kids work hard and continue to improve I expect good things from this team.”
Perryville senior quarterback Dominic Gugliotta, left, is one of several returning starters.