There was no way.
Try as he might, Jaylen Burton couldn’t scramble himself out of this unholy mess.
With a phalanx of Douglas Freeman defenders in hot pursuit and his receivers tightly covered, the Hermitage Panthers’ senior quarterback had just two viable options: take the sack or, if he was nimble enough, prevent the loss by chucking the football out of bounds.
There was no third choice. The play seemed doomed.
It wasn’t, though.
On this third-and-12 from the Mavericks’ 37, Burton, scurrying right after being flushed from the pocket, unleashed a desperation pass high into the cool night air.
A moment later, a very surprised KaRon Burton, who had stopped after assuming the play was a bust, hauled it in on the 3, then turned and stepped into the end zone.
His touchdown, which came with 7:55 remaining in the third quarter, gave the Panthers their first lead in this vigorously contested game en route to their 28-20 victory Friday at Freeman’s William E. Long Stadium as a brilliant waxing gibbous moon hovered high overhead.
“We lined up in trips to the left side,” said K. Burton, a 5-foot-11, 175-pound junior receiver. “I ran a post to the right side. I saw him [J. Burton] keep rolling out but thought he didn’t see me.
“I turned my head. I saw the ball. I was like, ‘Ohhhhh!’ I knew I had to make the play.”
If KaRon was surprised, Jaylen had no doubt.
“Credit Freeman,” the 5-9, 165-pound quarterback said. “Their defense is legit. They were bringing pressure. I trusted my O-line. Trusted my receivers. When I saw the open play, I took it.”
With quarterback Owen Fallen running the show, the Mavericks (6-2) scored two first-quarter touchdowns and took a 14-0 lead into the second.
Fallon, whose stat line read 17 for 27 for 233 yards, threw two TD passes, the first (12 yards) to Kamron Tucker and the second (73 yards) to Jahrell Horne.
“We had to buckle down and play solid football,” said Hermitage coach Tim Jean-Pierre. “Stop making mistakes and overlook the fact that we did make mistakes.
“A couple of times, we tried to make big plays instead of making the play. Then some things turned our way. We capitalized on them. We kept the pedal on the gas from there.”
The Panthers, 4-2 and No. 10 in The Times-Dispatch Top 10, mounted two solid second-quarter drives, both of which ended with short (7 and 2 yards) touchdown runs by Jeremiah Coney.
Jeremy Bowman’s 28-yard field goal at 4:23 of the second period sent Freeman into the locker room up 17-14.
“Ultimately, I just told the guys to calm down and trust the process,” said Jean-Pierre of his halftime message. “Football’s a long game. We made some adjustments. We had a lot of football left to play.”
After the Burton-to-Burton connection put the visitors ahead, they mounted a six-play, 88-yard drive early in the final quarter that ended with a 10-yard run by Coney and Braeden Megenity’s point-after.
After Bowman’s field goal 1:24 from the end gave Freeman hope, Coney recovered the ensuing onside kick, and the Panthers ran out the clock.
“Bend, don’t break,” said senior linebacker Corey Morton. “We preach on that all week. We had to communicate, execute, and play together as a team.
“We get behind sometimes. We just have to fight back. That’s Hermitage football.”
Hermitage 0 14 7 7 — 28
Douglas Freeman 14 3 0 3 — 20
DF — Tucker 12 pass from Fallen (Bowman kick)
DF — Horne 73 pass from Fallen (Bowman kick)
Herm — Coney 7 run (kick blocked)
DF — FG Bowman 28
Herm — Coney 1 run (Coney run)
Herm — K. Burton 37 pass from J. Burton (Megenity kick)
Herm — Coney 10 run (Megenity kick)
DF — FG Bowman 30
Herm — Coney 28-108, K. Burton 6-32, Bolden 2-9, J. Burton 7-6; DF — Perkins 16-90, Fallen 5-minus 4, Team 1-minus 20.
Herm — J. Burton 10-14-195-0, K. Burton 1-1-12-0, Morton 0-2-0-0; DF — Fallen 17-27-233-2
Herm –Gunnell 6-88, Rivers 3-70, K. Burton 1-37, Bolden 1-12; DF — Horne 8-150, Moore 3-36, Lohmann 2-26, Tucker 3-17, Perkins 1-4.