SPARR — Hernando gave North Marion all it wanted in a Class 3A, Region 2 quarterfinal Friday night.
The Leopards rallied from an early 13-point deficit to take a 21-20 lead late in the third quarter, but the host Colts made the plays down the stretch and earned a 35-21 win at Stan Toole Memorial Stadium.
"I'm proud of our guys," Hernando coach John Palmer said. "They weathered the early barrage and kept battling hard and never quit."
Hernando (9-2) was outgained 175-8 in the opening quarter, but never quit and pulled within 20-14 at halftime.
From there, the Leopards went ahead 21-20 at the 4:46 mark of the third quarter on a 3-yard run by Alvin Delaine.
North Marion, though, turned to its two playmakers, Latroy Pittman and Jamie Gilmore, to pull away.
Pittman, a Florida commit, hauled in the go-ahead 64-yard touchdown reception with 2:45 left in the third quarter, putting the Colts (10-1) up 26-21.
Gilmore then added his fourth score of the night on a 50-yard punt return with 11:31 left in the game to give North Marion some breathing room.
"Hernando has a great football team," said Colts coach Craig Damon. "Coach Palmer said this group of seniors he had really set the bar for the future of their program. They gave us everything we wanted."
After falling behind early, a 75-yard run by Tyrail Hawkins helped set up a 2-yard scoring plunge by Marlin Smith.
Gilmore answered with his third rushing score of the first half, but the Leopards closed within 20-14 at halftime when Clevandre Pope hit Delaine on an 11-yard scoring pass just 20.4 seconds before halftime.
The Leopards then took advantage of a fumble at the North Marion 24-yard line by Gilmore, as Delaine scored four plays later.
But the Colts responded in time to post their sixth straight opening-round playoff win.
"For us to come back like we did, showed a lot of character," Palmer said.
"They never backed down. We had a special senior class and they showed a lot of heart and leadership tonight."