Perryville wasted no time getting on the board, as Gugliotta threw a horizontal pass to Zacerous on the second play of their first drive, and Zacerous dashed 53 yards to the house to tie the game. Zack Strong split the uprights with the first of his seven extra points to put the hosts in front to stay, 7-6.
“He’s a beast, he runs hard and even makes me look good on some throws,” Gugliotta said of Zacerous, who also ran for 117 yards on just six carries. “He does a great job of getting open and making plays. He’s the heart and soul of this team and we rely on him.”
The Panthers started their next drive bottled up inside their own 5-yard line, but Gug-
liotta’s big-play prowess erased that setback. He connected downfield with junior Billy Boyer for an 88-yard touchdown.
Perryville took control in the second quarter, recovering fumbles on Rising Sun’s next two drives. The first put the Panthers at the Tiger 20, and after they converted on fourth down with the help of a facemask penalty against Rising Sun, Timmy Clark crossed the goal line on a 7-yard scamper. Perryville snatched the ball away again, this time deep in its own territory. Zacerous then blew through the line with a 46-yard dash, and then Gugliotta hit junior Bailey Armour in traffic for a 35-yard touchdown.
“Turnovers are a big key in any game and we capitalized on them,” Johnson said.
Penalties plagued the Panthers all game, and the Tigers took advantage in the second half, scoring a pair of late touchdowns. Quarterback Nate McCullough busted
loose on Rising Sun’s final drive, completing four straight passes, including a 6-yard scoring connection with Dustin Flowers. McCullough went 11-of-14 for 128 yards overall.
Rising Sun head coach Richard Opp was glad to see his players keep battling despite their large deficit.
“It was a good, hard-fought game,” he said. “The kids played hard for the most part. We started out slow and didn’t get out of that hole.”
A fight erupted on the field between a Rising Sun player and a Perryville player on the ensuing kickoff. Both teams rushed onto the field to join the fracas before coaches and officials could intervene. Tensions have remained high between the two squads stemming back to events that occurred last season when Rising Sun won in a blowout. Less than three minutes were left in the game, and the officials decided to end the
“I don’t know why the kid grabbed the other kid, but 99 percent of the kids on both teams did things the right way,” Johnson said. “The good thing is that Rich and I agreed that we wanted to shake hands and we want to show good sportsmanship. I have a lot of respect for Rich and he does a great job with his kids. These kids all know each other, so I think that’s one reason why it’s so heated and so passionate.”
The Panthers are back in the playoffs for the first time in three years, a fact not lost on the players or coaching staff.
“Everyone now is 0-0 and we’ve been road warriors all year with six away games,” Johnson said. “The kids have just got to prepare and practice like they want to be champions and lay it out on the line. It’s going to be fun. I don’t know who we’re going to be playing yet and right now it doesn’t really matter.”