Football: Perryville tops Fort Hill in state semifinal stunner

– After staging an improbable rally from a 14-point, second-half deficit against top-seeded and home-standing Fort Hill, Perryville completed its comeback when quarterback Gabe Sherrod muscled across the goal line from two yards out on the Panthers' first possession in overtime for a 20-14 victory in a thrilling Class 1A state semifinal Saturday.

With the victory, fourth-seeded Perryville (13-0), which had never won a postseason game before this season, advances to the 1A state championship game, where the Panthers will play third-seeded Dunbar from Baltimore at M&T Bank Stadium next Saturday.

Perryville trailed the Sentinels 7-0 at halftime and 14-0 late in the third quarter.

"It's surreal, winning this game," Perryville first-year coach Chris Johnson said afterward. "I knew the talent was here with this team, and I told them that if they did what they were asked, then we'd have a shot at it.

"I told them there was going to be an ebb and a flow with this game, but that they just had to keep fighting, keep moving ahead. To come back from 14 points down and beat one of the best football teams in the state, it's pretty incredible."

Trailing by 14-6 with less than five minutes left in the fourth quarter, the Panthers took possession of the ball on their 30 and proceeded to move Fort Hill one yard line on 10 plays, with Sherrod capping the drive by scoring on a quarterback keeper.

Needing a two-point conversion to tie the game, Sherrod rolled out and fired a bullet to Eddie Escobar in the left corner of the end zone, knotting the score at 14-14.

Fort Hill punted the ball away on its final possession of regulation, and the Panthers opted to kneel down with the ball in the remaining minute, pushing the game to overtime.

The Panthers, who won the coin toss and opted to defend, stopped Fort Hill on its only overtime possession.

With the ball on the 10-yard line and needing just a field goal to win, Perryville found the end zone in two plays, as Sherrod moved eight yards on a draw play, then scored the game-winner.

Early in the third quarter, Sherrod suffered a leg injury serious enough to cause a visible limp, but he remained in the game.

"That's Gabe, all the way," Johnson said. "He's like another coach for us, so it was his decision to stay in. He said he didn't want to come out, and thank goodness he didn't, because he led us to victory. He's a really strong player"

Fort Hill scored on its first possession of the game, with Dylan Clay busting across the goal line from one yard out to cap a 60-yard, nine-play drive.

The Sentinels moved to the Panthers' two yard line in the closing seconds of the first half, but were stopped short of the end zone when Perryville's Trenton Neary tackled fullback Ryan Briner on fourth-and-goal.

On their opening possession of the third quarter, which began after Perryville coughed up a fumble, the Sentinels' Garrett Clay scored on a two-yard touchdown. Cullin Brown then hit his second extra-point of the contest, giving Fort Hill a 14-0 advantage.

Taking the ball on the Fort Hill 49 after a fumble, Perryville pushed to the Fort Hill four on eight plays, then wrapped up the drive with a four-yard touchdown run from Joe Peaker. On the two-point attempt, the Panthers tried a direct snap to Peaker, who fumbled the ball, leaving Perryville behind, 14-6.

The Panthers racked up 344 offensive yards to Fort Hill's 228. Leading the way on the ground was Peaker, who had 72 yards on 15 carries, while Sherrod gained 55 yards on 15 rushing attempts.

The Dunbar Poets, who Perryville will play for the 1A title, are the defending champions. Dunbar came from behind to defeat Havre de Grace, 22-12, in the 2010 title game.

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