A few yards into his route during the third quarter of Saturday’s game against No. 17 Gaithersburg, Javonn Curry surveyed his surroundings.

The Paint Branch wide receiver had already caught three touchdown passes, so he expected a double team. But as quarterback Gaston Cooper scrambled outside the pocket, drawing in the Trojans’ defense, the most dangerous player on the field found himself unaccounted for.

Not only was Curry’s final reception his easiest, a 59-yard catch-and-run touchdown, it also served as the decisive score in the No. 19 Panthers’ 35-34 win against Gaithersburg at Walter Johnson.

“I was just running the route I was supposed to, so when no one came to cover me, I was real surprised,” said Curry, who finished with 12 catches for 197 yards.

Taking control of the contest proved a bit harder for both teams. A fumble and interception marred Paint Branch’s first half, allowing the Trojans to jump to a 14-0 lead behind two Nick DeCarlo touchdown throws.

But Gaithersburg (8-2) squandered several opportunities to extend its lead, missing a field goal and failing to convert a fourth down in the red zone. The Trojans then committed two personal foul penalties on the next two Panthers drives, both of which ended with a Curry touchdown catch and put Paint Branch (9-1) up 21-14 at halftime.

“We lost this game in the first half when we came away with zero points on three trips to the red zone,” Gaithersburg Coach Kreg Kephart said. “Paint Branch is a great team, but we could have really broken open the game.”

The Trojans found more success during a back-and-forth second half, as DeCarlo and William Tearney (seven catches for 202 yards and three touchdowns) connected for two long scores to pull Gaithersburg to 35-28.

DeCarlo would again reach the end zone on a one-yard plunge midway through the fourth quarter to cut the deficit to one. Kephart elected to go for the two-point conversion, which failed on an incomplete pass.

“We had missed a field goal and an extra point, so I didn’t have a whole lot of faith in our kicking game,” Kephart said. “We’d converted a two-point try earlier and I was hoping we could avoid overtime, but we didn’t get it.”

Paint Branch’s defense again came up big in the final two minutes, stuffing DeCarlo on fourth and one in its own territory to seal the win and the top seed in the Maryland 4A South region playoffs.

“I wasn’t happy with how many points we gave up, but our defense came up with some big stops when we needed them,” Panthers Coach Michael Nesmith said. “This is a real big win for us to have going into the playoffs.”