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One season over, one continues on gridiron

BY RANDY McROBERTS, rmcroberts@theaegis.com

1:12 PM EST, November 29, 2011

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The 2011 falls sports season came to an official close for Harford County last week with Aberdeen's state semifinal loss at River Hill, but the Upper Chesapeake Bay Athletic Conference is still alive after Perryville's stunning overtime victory at Fort Hill on Saturday.

In either case, football programs at both schools have had good seasons, and in the case of Perryville, a record-setting and almost dream-like run. And both had first-year head coaches.

At Aberdeen, John Brooks took over a team that struggled to one win a year ago, while at Perryville, Chris Johnson stepped in to take over a 5-5 Panthers team that missed the playoffs with a season-ending loss.

Brooks, despite having Aberdeen players make their way onto the Havre de Grace sidelines, had never coached at Aberdeen before. Johnson, however, coached as an assistant at Perryville some years ago.

Brooks was just changing hats, making the lateral move to head up the Eagles, but Johnson was moving up as well as moving on. Johnson, a Havre de Grace resident, has coached at Perryville, Douglass-Prince George's County and the latest, Edgewood. None of those jobs, though, were of the head coaching variety.

Interestingly, it was the final week of the regular season a year ago that pitted Edgewood at Perryville in a crucial matchup to close out the season. All the Panthers had to do was beat a sub-.500 Edgewood team and they were in the regional playoffs.

Standing on the sideline of that game last November, it seemed like a sure thing that Perryville was going to the playoffs. A couple of turnovers late led to an Edgewood win and the Panthers were left outside looking in. Who was the Edgewood coach with the headset on in the booth? Coach Johnson.

The Panthers haven't lost since that night, winning 13 straight in 2011 under Johnson.

For Brooks, a loss in the 1A state final a year ago is what he walked away from in Havre de Grace.

He and the Eagles gave it a good run over the past three months, but a lopsided 41-7 loss on Friday brought the Eagles' season to an abrupt end.

In last year's 1A title game, Brooks and the Warriors had the Dunbar Poets on the ropes for nearly three full quarters. Dunbar, however, eventually wore down the smaller, slower Warriors.

A year later and here we are again with a local team getting a shot at a state title with a talented Dunbar squad standing in the way.

Perryville, which slayed the Fort Hill giant that no other local team could do, will try to do the same Saturday at Baltimore's M&T Bank Stadium. I recall Aberdeen losing at home to Fort Hill a number of years ago and Havre de Grace losing in Cumberland in 2006.

So, Saturday at noon, Perryville will try to bring home the school's first-ever state football title in its first-ever state football final appearance.

Congratulations to both schools, both head coaches and the fans. Good luck to the Panthers this weekend. I believe Perryville proved last week not to count it out. Go get 'em Panthers.