Panthers jump out to big lead, hold on for narrow win
Special to the Whig
— After beginning the season with three-straight losses for the second consecutive year, Perryville entered Friday night searching for a much needed victory.
A first-half scoring barrage proved to be enough for the Panthers as they held on for a 21-19 win over host Harford Tech in Susquehanna Division football action.
After jumping out to a 21-17 halftime lead, Perryville (1-3 overall, 1-0 division) watched its lead dwindle in the second half. A blocked extra point kept the lead at 8 as the Cobras pulled within one score when David Cromwell found the end zone on a 34-yard touchdown run to open the third quarter.
The Panthers defense stepped up on the next three possessions. A punt, an interception by junior safety Billy Boyer and a fumble recovery kept the Panthers in control.
“That’s huge. The key is to get them third-and-long and get them off the field in those situations,” Perryville head coach Chris Johnson said. “I told the kids all week, don’t fall asleep on Harford Tech.”
Boyer’s defensive takeaway prevented a 34-yard pass in Perryville territory.
“At first I got burnt, and then the ball was thrown short,” Boyer said when asked about the key interception. “I was able to make a play on the ball.”
Following a 61-yard touchdown run by the Cobras’ Noah Long late in the third quarter, a 2-point conversion was disallowed due to an illegal shift. The Panthers then made a crucial stop on the re-try to hold their two-point advantage.
“I’m thankful that we were fortunate enough to have a penalty down there on the 2-point conversion,” Johnson said. “We didn’t cover the receiver on the left, we got lucky, and changed our defense after that.”
Perryville senior quarterback Dominic Gugliotta found Boyer for 30 yards on a key third-and-18 pass with 2:46 remaining which allowed the Panthers to run out the clock.
“I told coach just like I tell Dom [Gugliotta] before every game: Trust me, I came here for a reason.” Boyer said. “Last year I didn’t really get anything. When I say trust me, trust me. He threw it and I just caught it.”
Johnson had no problem trusting his two playmakers.
“I give Dom a lot of credit, and Billy thought he could get the ball on that play,” Johnson said of the key conversion. “On third-and-18 we took a shot instead of running the clock and punting. He [Gugliotta] made a hell of a throw and Billy made a hell of a catch”
Boyer torched the Cobras defense, as he tallied three catches for 112 yards, including two scores.
“I think people are gonna start keeping tabs on him,” Johnson said of Boyer. “He is a really good receiver and a good athlete as I knew he would be. Dom is gaining confidence and looking his way more. In fact, I get frustrated when Dom isn’t looking his way because I know Billy will make a play.”
The Panthers offense was able to cash in on defensive stops during the first half.
Gugliotta found Boyer twice in the second quarter following turnover-on-downs. They hooked up for a 25-yard touchdown through the air on a fourth down, and later a 57-yard touchdown pass gave the Panthers a 12-0 early lead. On both occasions, the Panthers were unable to tack on an extra point.
Panthers cornerback Timmy Clark then forced another turnover-on-downs as he broke up a pass. The next play, junior running back Caleb Robinson scampered for a 59-yard score that pushed the Panthers’ lead to 18-0 late in the first half. Another unsuccessful 2-pointer followed.
Perryville capitalized on 75-percent of its defensive stands, which included a fumble recovery on the Cobras’ first possession. Kicker Zach Strong capped the first-half scoring, answering an 11-yard touchdown pass by Harford Tech with a 22-yard field goal.
“I told these kids they can be a good team,” Johnson said after the win. “We just have to continue to improve every week. We took another step in that direction tonight.”
The Cobras fall to 2-2 overall and 0-1 in the lower division.