PERRYVILLE — Perryville and Havre de Grace meet annually on the football field. The schools, located on opposite banks of the Susquehanna, are fierce rivals.
But this year, it’s a little different.
The last game the Panthers played in was a 35-28 loss to the Warriors in the 1A East Region Championship. Perryville let a fourth quarter lead slip, allowing Havre de Grace to reach the state semifinals for a fourth-straight year.
They meet again tonight at Perryville.
“There’s definitely some motivation there, just because of the way that game turned out. But even though we have some returners that played in that game, we also have a lot of new blood, too, that didn’t play in that game,” Panthers coach Chris Johnson said. “I think they understand the importance of this first game. It’s not only a first game, but it’s a first game against a well-coached rival. When it’s your first game, you’re still trying to get installs in as you game plan. There’s a lot of things that are thrown into the pot this week. The fact that Labor Day was on Monday, so you add a short practice week on top of it, everything is just condensed and the level of intensity is cranked up in practice.”
Warriors coach Brian Eberhardt expects to meet a Perryville team with a chip on its shoulder.
“That was a heck of a game,” he said of last year’s state quarterfinal. “That was anybody’s game right to the end. We were fortunate to be on the winning side. That’s what rivalry games are right there.”
Year after year, Havre de Grace fields a team full of dynamic athletes with big-play potential.
“Offensively, they like to stretch the field horizontally and vertically. They do a really good job of that,” Johnson said. “I’m sure they’re going to try to attack our flank, try to get outside, but also establish their quarterback, [Brandon] Rabbit, who’s one of their best athletes. The key really is going to be how well we defend him and Tommy Meehan – they’ve got some good athletes over there, so we’ve got to do our best to keep them contained to avoid the big play.”
The sides meet annually in the ‘Susquehanna Bowl,’ so while teams typically enter opening-week games blindly, this one has a sense of familiarity.
“The fact of familiarity with each other always presents a problem,” Eberhardt said. “To have a rivalry game like this on Week 1 is always challenging. They’re going to come in well coached and very fired up for the game. There’s a host of challenges there, for sure.”
Eberhardt noted Perryville senior quarterback Tyler Nasuta as a major cause for concern.
“Anytime you have a senior quarterback – a seasoned senior quarterback – that’s tough to go against,” he said. “We were fortunate we had that guy last year. I’m sure that coach Johnson is going to use him in ways that we probably haven’t seen.”
Both coaches mentioned several of the obvious challenges to opening the season with a Week 1 rivalry game. Eberhardt said his job is to tone down the hype and get each player to focus on his individual job. Johnson pointed out that while this game has its challenges, it also presents a major opportunity.
“To win this game against a team that has been in the final four the last however many years – it’s been quite a few – definitely would do our kids a lot of good mentally. It would really help us kickstart our season,” he said. “For anybody who loves high school football, I would highly recommend being at our game on Friday night. I think it will be well coached and well played, so the team that plays the best and executes the best will be the team with the victory.”
Follow Sean Grogan on Twitter: @Sean_CecilWhig