Howard senior wide receiver Christian Dargan made a highlight reel run after the catch on the first play from scrimmage and added another long touchdown reception in the second half to lead unbeaten Howard (11-0) to a 28-7 over visiting Perry Hall (7-4) Friday night in the Class 4A North Region football semifinals.
Dargan's first TD reception was officially 76 yards, but he ran about 120 on the play that started as an innocent 15-yard slant pass from quarterback Kevin Sheahin.
He caught it and turned Perry Hall defenders dizzy with jukes and shimmies until he saw an opening and raced into the end zone.
"It was his turn to step up," Howard coach Bruce Strunk said. "He made a great play. It seems like all of our guys are taking turns making great plays."
Dargan was even wondering how he managed to elude so many tacklers.
"I don't even know what I did," he said. "I just had a feel for it and I just started cutting until I saw something open up at the end. I got a lot of great blocks at the end and I saw the end zone and I just kept running my heart out."
His second half touchdown covered 62 yards and came when he grabbed a low slant pass from Sheahin and outran the Gators to the end zone.
That gave the Lions a 28-0 lead and only a late touchdown pass from Perry Hall's Reece Wiseman to James Rider from 18 yards out prevented Howard from getting its sixth shutout of the season.
"That was my fault," said Dargan, who was guarding Rider on the play.
That kept him humble because he knows the Lions have more playoff work to do one year after Perry Hall eliminated them 28-14 in the first round of the 2013 playoffs.
They will host Paint Branch in the next round at 7 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 21.
"It's a great feeling to get revenge," Dargan said. "We've always talked about this ever since this team started back in training camp. We always wanted to get this game back, but we're not done yet, we've still got a long way to go. Paint Branch is a real good team."
Perry Hall was a good team with missing parts.
"If you would have seen the team we lined up with in August and the team we lined up with tonight, especially receiving and defensive backs, it's totally different," coach Keith Robinson said. "We had a black cloud over our head with injuries."
Add to that the deletion of leading rusher Mike Morris Jr. and the offense was a shell of itself.
"We had to dismiss one of our good kids (Morris Jr.) two weeks ago for discipline issues," Robinson said. "He was our weapon."
Quarterback Wiseman proved to be a dangerous weapon, but the Gators had several drops on the frigid evening, including two that could have gone for touchdowns.
But, Howard's defensive line of ends Winston Delattiboudere and Max O'Donnell and tackles Craig Brauer and Saif Bryant and linebackers Vandon Vale, Shane Kieta and Nick Saunders didn't let the Gators establish a consistent running game.
"It's a heckuva team," Robinson said. "Their defense is lights out. It's going to be an uphill battle to score points on them in the playoffs."
The offense proved its flexibility as well as the team's leading rusher, Najee Savage, ran for 157 yards on 29 carries.
"I don't see any weaknesses," Robinson said. "They can run the ball."
Savage had one run that only lasted 12 yards in the first half because he fumbled, but teammate Malik Anderson scooped it up on the dead run and raced the last 12 yards into the end zone for a 14-0 lead with 6:55 left in the first half.
Savage's best work of the evening came on a 75-yard drive that ended with a 1-yard plunge with 18 seconds left in the half.
During the drive he had a 35-yard scamper behind a line that included center Steve McNair, guards David Billings and Cody Johns and tackles Elijah McBride and Kayd Ruggles.
"We knew coming in that they were loaded," Robinson said.
Meanwhile, Strunk was aware the Gators were explosive and played conservative in the second half after they took the 28-0 lead following Dargan's second TD catch and kicker Jonathon Gould's fourth extra point of the night.
"Second half we were trying to run the clock out a little bit," Strunk said. "We were up big and maybe we took the foot off the gas a little bit early, maybe we should have been throwing it around still, but a win is a win and we'll take it and move onto the next round. We beat a quality opponent in Perry Hall."