FREDERICK, Md. —South Hagerstown football coach Toby Peer is happy to let people talk about the big numbers some of his offensive players have put up so far this season.
But he’s also quick to point out that the Rebels have a pretty good defense, too.
They showed that Friday night when they picked off five passes and held the Thomas Johnson offense to fewer than 200 yards as South won arguably its biggest game in a decade, beating the Patriots, 21-14.
“There are a lot of people who thought we were a team led by our offense, but our defense has played well all year,” Peer said. “The defense kept us in the game tonight.”
The Rebels (4-0) have allowed just 26 points in their first four games of the season and may have opened some eyes with a victory over last year’s Class 3A runner-up. The last game South won against a team with as strong a pedigree as TJ was a 42-0 win over Dunbar in the Class 1A playoffs in 2002.
They did it in ball-hawking fashion, intercepting TJ quarterback Heath Dahlgren — who has committed to Towson — on all three of the Patriots’ possessions in the second half.
Still, TJ (2-2) led 14-7 going into the fourth quarter after Josh McClain intercepted a Brandon Jackson pass and returned it 89 yards for a score.
That was when South’s offense began to click. On the final play of the third quarter, Jackson completed a pass to Michael Hill for 25 yards and officials tacked on another 15 for pass intereference to move the ball to the TJ 40.
Isiaha Smith, who was bottled up for most of the first three quarters, made short gains on first and second down and Jackson threw incomplete on third.
On fourth down, Jackson connected with Jakerian Jones on the sideline. Jones made a quick inside move to shake one receiver, then saw only daylight to the end zone, completing a 38-yard scoring play. Craig Coffin added the point after to tie the score at 14.
“I didn’t know (the defender) was that tight on me,” Jones said. “I just knew we were down and needed to get into the end zone. That was all I wanted to do.”
On TJ’s next possession, Jones preserved the tie by picking off his third pass of the night. He returned it 81 yards to the end zone, but the touchdown was negated by a block in the back on the return.
It was the second interception return for a score that Jones had called back.
“It was a little disappointing, but the important thing was we had the ball,” Jones said.
South took over at its own 49 and Smith finally broke free of the TJ defense. He ripped off runs of 22 and 20 yards to move the Rebels to the TJ 9. A procedure penalty moved them back to the 14, where Jackson dropped back on second down and zipped a perfect pass to the end zone for Teon Maeser for the go-ahead score with 6:04 left. It was Maeser’s second touchdown catch of the night, having scored on an 81-yard pass play in the third quarter.
The Patriots mounted another drive, leaning on Richy Anderson — a Maryland recruit — to move the ball into South territory. But when forced to throw, Dahlgren had more success finding South players then his own. On second down from the South 22, he threw his fifth interception, this one to KJ White with just under 2 minutes to go.
Smith rumbled for runs of 22 and 36 yards to set South up in victory formation. He rushed for 102 yards in the fourth quarter alone and finished with 162 yards.
“Our philosophy is real simple: Work hard in the offseason in the weight room, pound the ball and with our strength and conditioning we’ll prevail in the fourth quarter,” Peer said.
South Hagerstown 21, Thomas Johnson 14
South 0 0 7 14 — 21
T. Johnson 0 7 7 0 — 14
TJ—Josh McClain 26 run (Chris Sloan kick)
S—Teon Maeser 81 pass from Brandon Jackson (Craig Coffin kick)
TJ—McClain 89 interception return (Sloan kick)
S—Jakerian Jones 38 pass from Jackson (Coffin kick)
S—Maeser 14 pass from Jackson (Coffin kick)