Brandon Rabbitt’s five-yard touchdown run with 1:16 to play Friday night lifted Havre de Grace to an hard-earned, 35-28, victory over visiting Perryville for the Class 1A East Region championship.
The Warriors (10-2) watched an early 14-0 lead disappear in the second quarter, but it was 14 more points in the final quarter that sent the Warriors into this week’s state semifinals for a fourth straight year.
The Warriors, locked in the number three seed, will travel to Fort Hill Saturday’s semifinal game. Game time is 1 p.m.
The Warriors became the three seed with Douglass of Prince George’s County upsetting Fairmont Heights, 20-12, for the South title.
"It’s a great feeling and it speaks volumes to the kids and our coaching staff,” Warriors coach Brian Eberhardt said. “So proud and very happy for our kids, four regional championships is quite a feather.”
The winning drive started at the Warriors 37 with 3:33 to play. Quarterback Alex Gresock ran for 15 yards over two downs and passed for 36 yards on two more. The latter pass to Jordan White covered 27 yards to the Perryville 15 and after a unsportsmanlike penalty against the Panthers bench, Havre de Grace had the ball inside the Perryville eight.
Rabbitt ran two yards on the first snap and five yards for the winning touchdown on the next snap.
Nate Brown, who was 5-for-5 on extra point attempts, added the kick.
The Panthers (7-5) last minute chance at a game-tying score ended quickly. Quarterback Tyler Nasuta’s first down pass was intercepted by Havre de Grace junior Savion Johnson. “Perryville came out to play and it came down to the last couple plays,” Johnson said. “Had to show up, make the play, seal the win.”
The Warriors jumped ahead just three and a half minutes in, on Gresock's 36-yard scoring pass to Tommy Meehan.
Two plays into Perryville’s first possession, the Warriors defense came up with the big play. Senior Jess Fenner stripped the ball away from Nasuta and the Warriors were back in business at the Panthers 17.
On first down though, Rabbitt fumbled the ball right back to the Panthers. Sam Richie made the recovery.
The Panthers then drove the ball inside the Warriors 20, but Nasuta’s fourth down pass into the end zone was picked off by Warriors sophomore Jaylen Day, who was tackled at his own five.
Day suffered an dislocated elbow injury a short time later and was taken away by ambulance.
From the five, Meehan (four catches, 80 yards) caught a 15-yard pass from Gresock and he then ran for 22 yards on the next play.
Three downs later, Gresock ran 42 yards for the score with 18 seconds left in the first quarter to give his team that 14-0 lead.
Perryville, which lost 45-15 at Havre de Grace in week three, answered in a big way. The Panthers scored 21 straight points to take a 21-14 lead into the half.
Senior Kenyetta Bailey (22 carries, 104 yards) scored on a six-yard run to get the Panthers on the scoreboard with 9:45 to play in the half. “We are not the same team they played in week three. We got better, we peaked at the right time in the playoffs and we came in here with the mindset that we were going to beat them,” Bailey said. “We just came up short in the end.”
Five minutes later Nasuta passed 17 yards to Braden Yadlosky to even the score at 14 and Bailey rumbled 26 yards with :48 left in the half to put the Panthers ahead. Zeke Mills added the kick after all three scores.
The third score was set up by Matt Woods’ fumble recovery at the Panthers 49.
Havre de Grace tied the game at 21 with its first second half possession. A 13-play, 65-yard drive was capped by Gresock’s (12-for-23, 157 yards) 10-yard pass to White (three catches, 40 yards) on third and goal.
Gresock's second lost fumble led to another Perryville touchdown. The Panthers took over at the Warriors 24 and Nasuta ran three yards for the touchdown with 9:45 left in the fourth quarter.
Havre de Grace had the immediate answer, putting together another 65-yard scoring drive. Rabbitt also scored that touchdown from a yard out with 6:07 to play.
On the Panthers ensuing possession, Bailey ran 13 yards on first down, but he was stuffed for no gain on the next down and Perryville was flagged for holding the next snap. The drive stalled from there and the ball was punted back to Havre de Grace who put together the winning drive.
“We came into this, thinking like, it's another regional championship, kind of seemed like a normal thing,” Fenner said. “But obviously Perryville came to play and so we came out that second half, knowing what we had to do and we came out full-hearted and put it to them."
Reach Randy McRoberts on twitter. @aegissports