Perryville football

Junior running back Emarion Hampton scored a pair of touchdowns during Perryville’s win over Joppatowne last week. Hampton and the Panthers travel to face top-seeded Dunbar tonight in the 1A state semifinals.

PERRYVILLE — At least on paper, the Perryville football team will be major underdogs tonight when they travel south to Baltimore to meet Dunbar.

But that’s the way the Panthers like it.

“We get tired of people talking down on us. Every year I’ve been at Perryville, people have predicted us to go lesser than what we have. I feed off that. I feed off being the underdog,” senior offensive lineman Joe Crockett, a team captain, said. “They’re very athletic. They’re bigger, but I have faith that my line will do what they need to do to execute and get the win on Friday. Everybody is like ‘Oh, it’s Dunbar.’ I look at it like ‘It’s Dunbar, let’s go.’”

Acting Perryville head coach Sean Sandora called the top-seeded Poets, a perennial 1A powerhouse, a “typical Dunbar team.”

“They’re athletic and fast,” he said. “They’ve got some playmakers. No. 40 is a really good ball player for them, and they’ve got some guys that if they catch the ball in space, they can make some things happen.”

It will take a disciplined game for the eighth-seeded Panthers (7-4) to advance to the 1A state semifinals.

“You’ve just got to kind of keep them in front of you, rally to the ball, got to get 11 hats to them on defense,” Sandora said. “Offensively, you’ve got to execute and make your blocks. When you get an opportunity to hit a hole, hit it hard and make a play.”

Hitting those holes will be junior running back Emarion Hampton.

“They’re big and they’re fast, but we’re big and we’re fast,” Hampton said. “I feel like we can keep up with them. I feel like it’s going to be a really good game.”

Hampton rushed for two touchdowns and intercepted a pass during last week’s win over Joppatowne that propelled Perryville into the state quarterfinals. He picked off a pass in both postseason victories.

“‘E’ has been pretty consistent all year long making those types of plays. I think he leads our teams in picks and touchdowns,” Sandora said. “[Sophomore running back] Jaimere [Guy], his coming out party was against North Harford when he got some opportunities to make some plays. Up front, our line has been firing off the ball, paying attention to detail. [Senior quarterback Tyler] Nasuta is just standing in the pocket, trusting his line and then just giving his guys an opportunity to make a play on the ball in the air. It’s all about trust.”

Dunbar (10-1) is expected to be playing at this point in the season just about every year. The Panthers had to battle their way to this spot.

“Before that four-game losing streak – after we beat Havre de Grace – we were so complacent with the wins,” Hampton said. “We didn’t want that to happen again, so we started buying in. If it didn’t happen at that time, we wouldn’t be where we are right now.”

It happened in the days leading up to Perryville’s win over North Harford on Oct. 25. The victory snapped the skid and was the beginning of an equally long win steak.

“Our season turned right there,” Sandora said. “I really think it goes to the character of the kids. They have a lot of fight in them. Even in the games that we did lose, we were still in there every moment of the game. We continued to fight and just focused on getting better – making themselves better and making the team better. Taking it one game at a time kind of really helped us get to where we are today.”

Where they are is among the last eight teams standing in the state of Maryland.

“It’s awesome. Last year was my first year ever making it to playoffs,” Crockett said. “This year, to see that we went past the second round and are actually in the state quarterfinal, that’s the best feeling that I could ever ask for from my senior year. And on top of that, first game of the season, we won the ‘Susky Bowl.’”

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