Catonsville trailed Perry Hall by six with under a minute left in the first half and the Comets were inside the Gators 20-yard line when Perry Hall’s Daniel Johnson picked off a third-down pass and raced 88 yards for a touchdown as the half ended.
A two-point conversion pass from Jailen Knight to Mehkai Price made it a 14-point lead and the Gators were never threatened on the way to a 39-0 victory on Friday evening.
“We were really confident, it gave us a great boost of energy, we had some ups and downs in the first half and to have that going into halftime, it was a really good boost for us going into the half,” Knight said. “It just shows what kind of fight we have in this team. They came down into our territory and we made a great play.”
Catonsville coach Jaren Maybin knew the play was a game-changer.
“Once they made that big play right before the half, the momentum was on their side and it was just a little bit too much for us,” he said.
Perry Hall’s other touchdown came on an Isaiah Armstrong 8-yard run with 34 seconds left in the first quarter after the Comets had fumbled on their own 20.
Trailing 14-0 at intermission, the Comets tried and recovered an onside kick only to have the recovery nullified because they touched the ball before it went 10 yards.
“We didn’t expect to use it this early, but we saw an opportunity for a game-changing type of play and to come out and get the ball, it would have been great, we thought we had it, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles sometimes,” Maybin said.
The Catonsville defense, which played a stellar first half and got a clutch third-down stop on a tackle for loss by Daniel Heffern inside their own 20, wore down in the second half and the Gators exploited them with multiple weapons.
“I think coach [Jeff] Mueller called a great game on defense and I think our guys played very hard on defense,” Maybin said. “If it wasn’t for a few mistakes, it was a lot closer game.”
Knight’s 5-yard TD run with 9:20 left in the third quarter made it 20-0 and a 42-yard pass from Knight to Ricardo Cooper with 5:07 left in the third pushed the lead to 26-0.
“We thought we had some missed opportunities in the first half,” Perry Hall coach Luke Ethington said. “We felt like we controlled the tempo and I told them games are won and lost on opportunities and definitely lost on missed opportunities; so we didn’t feel like we were doing as much as we could do to put ourselves in a position to win.”
The opportunities kept coming for the Gators in the second half as they closed the scoring with a 1-yard TD run by Armstrong and 15-yard scamper by Karon Brown.
“If we want to run the ball we can do that, if we want to sit back and pass, we can do that too,” Knight said. “We have a great O-line and they blocked tremendously today.”
Gabe Moore, Cole Schweitzer and Taywan Moore were a trio of linemen who opened holes all evening.
While the Comet offense didn’t generate many yards, coach Maybin supported his senior quarterback Jacob Diluca, whose longest pass plays were 20 yards and 21 yards to Eldred Boria.
“He (Diluca) has got so much better than when we first threw him on the field as a sophomore and I’m actually proud in his development and he still had room to grow as a quarterback,” Maybin said. “I was super excited about him going into the season in the fall because you work on things and you develop over the summer, but with that long gap that we had, we had some rust that we need to knock off.”
Meanwhile, Perry Hall’s Knight knocked off his rust in the second half.
“You could definitely see when he started to feel a little more comfortable and they started to move the ball and they had a couple big plays and that is what the game is all about,” Maybin said.
Perry Hall’s Ethington was just happy to see his team play in a real game for the first time in 17 months.
“Even with the cancellation last week we are just happy to be around each other,” he said. “We didn’t know if we were going to get a season, so any day we get outside, it’s a blessing and we are grateful for it.”