In a topsy-turvy game full of lead changes and uncertainty, in which promising drives succumbed to turnovers and dismal down-and-distances were salvaged with improbable big plays, it was difficult not to wonder whether Patuxent quarterback Tyler Crounse left a little too much time on the clock for Gwynn Park when he charged over the goal line with 2 minutes 31 seconds to go in Friday’s Maryland 2A South region final.
But on the four downs that followed, the Panthers befuddled Gwynn Park’s potent offense and kept it from creating one last high-flying big play to secure a 35-28 win, a region title and a berth in the state semifinals.
“Every time they were scoring, our mind-set was just keep answering back,” Crounse said. “And then hold on and make stops. It was tough, but we hung in there.”
To say Patuxent (12-0) “tried to hand” Gwynn Park the game early, as Panthers Coach Steve Crounse remembered it to his team in the huddle, would be to undersell a Yellow Jackets defense that forced and recovered two first-half fumbles.
“Oh man,” said the younger Crounse after the game, looking sick to his stomach as he recalled the turnovers. “That was rough.”
Rough, but not fatal.
In fact, the Panthers led at the half, 14-12, thanks in part to Laron Gross, who picked off a pass that might have put the No. 7 Yellow Jackets (11-1) up two scores.
Neither team distanced itself from the other, though Gwynn Park nearly did in the fourth quarter.
Leading 28-21, the Yellow Jackets threw toward the goal line. As a pass that just might have carried Gwynn Park to the state semifinals spiraled toward the end zone, Gross leapt and grabbed it.
“I let a slant get away from me early, so I was thinking, I’ve got to play the quarterback, I’ve got to read his eyes,” Gross said. “If it goes up, it’s got to be mine.”
After the interception, Crounse bounced off would-be tacklers with grit and the help of his teammates, as the offensive line cleared just enough room up the middle all night.
Crounse finished with 138 yards rushing on 24 carries.
His redemptive tying and go-ahead touchdown runs sent Patuxent to the state semifinal against Patterson, a game they’ll host.
The Panthers have been close, but have not made the state’s 2A final four throughout Crounse’s coaching tenure, a void his son filled as he crossed the goal line with the game’s final score.
“For me to be able to do that for him, as his son, it’s just crazy,” Crounse said. “I can’t even believe it.”