PERRYVILLE — After a Zack Ayers 46-yard touchdown run, the Panthers held a 30-20 lead with just under three minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. A Jayden Byard interception near midfield looked to have sealed the deal. The Mariners then made a late push.
Joppatowne forced an Ethen Gunter fumble and moments later, running back Steven Robinson took a screen pass 78-yards to the house to put the Mariners within four. With less than one minute remaining, all Perryville needed was a first down.
The Mariners defense held, however, forcing a turnover on downs with 28.3 seconds on the clock, just beyond midfield.
Then, Ethen Gunter redeemed himself.
Gunter kept Joppatowne’s DaJohn Short in bounds on a second down pass to keep the game clock running. With the Mariners out of timeouts, Gunter’s play served as the true game sealer, giving the Panthers a 30-26 victory.
“That was huge. The clock kept running because they didn’t have any timeouts. If they got out of bounds they’d had more time,” Ayers said of the final seconds. “With the clock running down that was probably the biggest part of the last quarter.”
“He’s a baller. He’s a dog,” Ayers added of Gunter’s final play. “He’s going to keep going, nobody can stop him.”
Perryville jumped out to a halftime lead of 16-6 off the legs of Ayers. The Panthers do-it-all senior found the end zone for the first of four times on the night with a 22-yard rushing touchdown. Perryville forced two turnovers on the next two Joppatowne possessions, the first resulting in a fumble and the latter the first of two interceptions by Byard.
The turnovers set up an Ayers field goal and then a 64-yard rushing touchdown by the Perryville senior. Throughout the night, the Panthers utilized jet sweep motions across the line of scrimmage to get the ball in Ayers’ hands.
“Watching on film we saw that they were a man-to-man team and we are pretty good at blocking on the perimeter,” Head Coach Sean Sandora said. “We were able to get the edge with them.”
Ayers credits the blocking of wide receivers Kyle Huth and Vincent Muscella on the outside for his success on the ground.
“Our front was killing them all night,” Ayers said. “My blocking was basically protecting me to get where I was. All I did was run the ball. They did all the hard work. I just ran, it was all them.”
Joppatowne kicked off the second half with a touchdown and two-point conversion of its own on a Shawn Cain touchdown. After Ayers recorded his third touchdown of the game and gave the Panthers a 23-14 lead, Joppatowne took advantage of a Perryville fumble in plus field position.
Six plays later, Mariners quarterback Anthony Wilson kept it himself on a read option from less than five-yards out, to put Joppatowne back within a score.
The victory marks the second of the year for the Panthers. Perryville came off its first victory of the year over North Harford, which saw the navy blue and gold give up a 22-0 lead, before holding on for the win.
Sandora pointed to areas in which his team can improve as the year is still young. Perryville’s head coach hopes his team can stay more disciplined, after totaling 13 penalties in its week two win.
“I think we came out and we got up early and then we kind of again gave up some big plays. Steven Robinson is a really good player. They’re a tough team,” Sandora said. “We just didn’t tackle well on defense to be honest.”