Panthers back in the playoffs, prepare to face old familiar foe
Only two members of the current Perryville football team played at the varsity level the last time the high school competed in the postseason.
For Panthers senior teammates Zac Zacerous and Cullen McCoy, the hope this year is that their playoff journey has a better result than their previous postseason experience.
The Panthers (5-5) won three consecutive regularseason contests to punch their ticket to the 1A East Region playoffs, where they will travel tonight to face third-seeded CambridgeSD (7-3). It will mark the first time both schools have faced off since the Vikings topped Perryville, 42-0, in the 2013 region final—the last of three consecutive playoff showdowns between the two programs.
“I just told [my players] that we need to ... just go and play a good football game. Go and execute. Every team is different, every team has a different personality,” said Perryville coach Chris Johnson, whose team is a No. 3 seed, compared to 2013, when it entered as a second seed. “This one is a little bit different in the fact that we’re playing an unfamiliar opponent. The one thing I will say is it’s a little different [than 2013]. The last three weeks we knew we had to win, so every game kind of had those playoff implications on it.”
With such a large gap between postseason appearances, Johnson compared his current squad to the 2011 Perryville team, which made the playoffs for the time time since 2004 and advanced to the state championship game.
“In 2011, those guys had never been to the playoffs and it didn’t affect them at all. They had confidence in themselves and that’s really what it comes down to,” Johnson said. “If you get into the playoffs and you believe in yourself and you know what you’re capable of, you just go out there and do it. Our kids right now should feel very confident about themselves.
“I just want the kids to come down there and play a confident football game and I think we have a good chance.”
Offensively, the Panthers will look to maintain the momentum of the past three weeks when they scored 40.6 points per game and outscored their opponents 122-38.
Zacerous, a major contributor on the offensive side of the ball at fullback, will be counted on to move the chains and put points on the board.
“The one thing about Zac is you’re going to get 100 percent no matter what,” Johnson said. “Both on offense and defense, he’s going to give you every ounce of energy he has. Right now, he’s our bell cow. He’s the one who will get the majority of the carries when we run the football. He’s also catching the ball out of the backfield now so he’s a weapon there.
“He’s somebody that can wear down an opposing team’s defense,” the coach added. “He’s not somebody that’s going to go down with one person, and if you try to arm tackle him, he’s just going to run through it. He’s a strong kid.”
Defensively, the Panthers will have their hands full trying to contain the Vikings’ offense.
“They have a lot of speed,” Johnson said of tonight’s opponent, which features a pair of talented running backs. “We’re going to have make sure we contain those two. They have a quarterback who throws a good deep ball—they like the big play—so we’ve been working with our secondary this week on working on the long balls and trying to take that away. They’ve been able to score a lot of points on offense so we’re going to have to play very good defense and keep them under wraps.”
A win for Perryville will set up a potential rematch with top-seeded Bo Manor, the team’s biggest Cecil County rival.
“We can only control what we can control but the kids really want to play Bo. [Eagles coach] Joe [Graf] and I talked about how cool it would be to have an all-Cecil County region championship game,” Johnson said. “I think a Round Two would be just a great game on both sides of the ball and I think it’s what fans would want to see.”
Follow Jordan Schatz on Twitter: @Jordan_Whig Perryville senior Dominic Gugliotta throws a pass against Elkton earlier this season. The Panthers are set to play host Cambridge-SD tonight in the 1A East Region semifinals.