The first McDonough defender reached Gwynn Park senior Joseph Hayman two yards deep in the backfield, and even after slipping away, the 5-foot-6 running back was still well short of the first-down marker.

But on the fourth-and-two rush in the third quarter of Friday’s Maryland 2A South semifinal, Hayman managed to spin off another tackler near the line of scrimmage and fall forward for the first down.

“That’s heart, baby,” a teammate yelled above the din of the excited visiting crowd.

Hayman’s extra effort proved a major theme in No. 15 Gwynn Park’s 18-7 win over top-seeded McDonough in Pomfret. He finished with 110 rushing yards and two touchdowns and also added an interception in a gritty defensive effort that held the Rams scoreless over the game’s final 42 minutes.

The Yellow Jackets (10-1) will travel to face the winner of Saturday’s Patuxent-Douglass matchup in next week’s region final.

“I came out here hyped,” said Hayman, who managed to gain positive yardage on all but one of his 23 carries. “I knew they wasn’t going to come out here and lay down for us. I had to make big plays, and the plays were made today. I left it all on the field.”

Gwynn Park closed the regular season on an eight-game winning streak in which it outscored its opponents, 347-24, and the team hadn’t trailed since its loss at Friendly on Sept. 7.

But the Yellow Jackets had to play from behind on Friday when McDonough quarterback Devone Boone scored on a seven-yard run six minutes into the game.

Hayman bailed Gwynn Park out of the hole, scoring two of the team’s three second-quarter touchdowns. He got the Yellow Jackets on the scoreboard early in the second period, taking a pitch 20 yards to the end zone.

Later, Hayman picked off a pass and returned it inside the 5-yard line. He finished that drive with a six-yard touchdown catch on a pass from junior Jay Adams to close the scoring with 1 minute 56 seconds left in the first half.

Hayman is “the smallest guy out there but [also] the toughest,” Gwynn Park Coach Danny Hayes said. “You know you’re going to get it all out of him.”

Meantime, McDonough’s offense sputtered. The Rams (9-2) found a few seams early on using a series of read-option plays, but those lanes closed down as the game went on.

After their lone touchdown, the Rams had four punts and four turnovers on their final eight possessions. They were also penalized 13 times for 115 yards.

“We had penalties at just the wrong time — unsportsmanlike conduct penalties and things of that nature,” McDonough Coach Luke Ethington said. “It’s unfortunate. [They] hurt us. I’m really disappointed.”