With neither team able to generate much offense, No. 13 Perry Hall's defense forced Franklin to punt from its own 6-yard line early in the fourth quarter of Friday night's crucial Baltimore County matchup.
The Gators then took advantage of the field position with a seven-play, 38-yard drive, capped by 27-yard field goal by Jake McQuay to take the lead with 5:28 left in the game. John Myers recovered a fumble on the ensuing possession, Eric Latham scored from the 1-yard line and the host Gators escaped with a 24-14 victory.
Perry Hall (8-1) entered the game holding the fourth and final playoff spot in the Class 4A North region, just ahead of Westminster (7-1). It's possible a team with just one loss in the region might not qualify for the post-season, but the Gators are now in position to seal the final spot.
"We had a great defensive game plan, we had a great week of practice and just had a good feeling all week," Perry Hall coach Keith Robinson said. "It was a chess match. We both made adjustments. In our region, it looks like 9-1 gets you in and nothing less. We told our guys this I really a playoff game."
Franklin began the night in second place in the 3A North standings, just ahead of Patterson (6-2) and Aberdeen (6-2). But the loss dropped the Indians to 6-3 and could knock them out of the playoffs.
After a scoreless first quarter highlighted by several hard hits by each team, Perry Hall opened the scoring on a 9-yard run by Latham with 11:08 left in the second quarter.
Franklin's top playmaker, receiver Ian Thomas, had been held to just one catch midway through the second quarter. But he got behind Perry Hall's defense with 6:55 remaining before halftime and caught a pass over his shoulder from Jackson Thornton for a 79-yard touchdown that tied the game.
Both teams were effective moving the ball, but penalties on both sides ended scoring drives. The teams continued their stalemate in a third quarter that was dominated by defense.
Perry Hall then made the necessary plays to take a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter.
A 1-yard run by Thornton cut the margin to 17-14 with 2:08 left in the game. But The Gators recovered the ensuing onside kick, and Latham added a third rushing touchdown, a 28 yard score.
"We run fast and we keep it going," Latham said. "We don't slow down for anyone. The linemen blocked, and everybody did what they were supposed to do. We can't lose if we want to get to the playoffs."
No. 13 Perry Hall 24, Franklin 14
F 0 7 0 7 – 14
P 0 7 0 10 – 24
P- Latham 9 run (McQuay kick)
F-Thornton 79 pass to Thomas (Myers kick)
P-McQuay 27 kick
P-Latham 1 run (McQuay kick)
F-Thornton 1 run (Myers kick)
P-Latham 28 run (McQuay kick)