He guided the Panthers to the 2011 state title game and won another region championship the following season.
But Johnson has never had more genuine affection for a team than he has for the 2018 squad.
The playoffs started early for Perryville. After being pummeled 62-0 by Harford Tech in week eight, the Panthers posted crucial wins over North East and Bohemia Manor to qualify for the postseason where they surprised Cambridge-South Dorchester in the playoff opener.
Then facing a Havre de Grace team which had whooped them 45-15 in week three, Perryville pushed the four-time region champion Warriors to the limit in the rematch.
"They were so resilient and to see a team that matured from the beginning and see them grow was amazing," Johnson said. "When times were the lowest is when they responded and became the best they could be. They knew they could be better and they fought hard. We won some big games to get into the playoffs. We upset a good Cambridge team and we were within a whisker of winning this game. One thing here, one thing there, and we're the winners. Unfortunately, we ran out of time."
The Panthers clawed out of an early 14-0 deficit and led 28-21 on quarterback Tyler Nasuta's two-yard TD run with 9:45 remaining in the fourth quarter. The score was set up by a fumble recovery by TyeSean Stephenson. Perryville forced four Warriors fumbles on the night.
Havre de Grace showed its mettle by responding with a game-tying touchdown drive capped by Brandon Rabbitt's two-yard run with 6:07 to go.
Hurt by a holding penalty, Perryville was not able to get a first down and punted the ball back to Havre de Grace. The Warriors took over on their own 37 with 3:20 left. A 27-yard pass from quarterback Alex Gresock to Tommy Meehan on a receiver screen took the ball down the the Perryville 15. The Panthers sideline was whistled for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty with the half-the-distance to the goal enforcement giving the Warriors 1st and 3 from the 8. Rabbitt ran three yards for a first down then scored from five yards out on the next play to put the hosts ahead 35-28 with 1:16 remaining.
After the kickoff return out to the 35, Perryville had 67 seconds to score a tying touchdown but the Warriors' Savion Johnson picked off a pass on the first play. Havre de Grace was able to kneel down twice and run out the clock.
It was a disheartening defeat for the Panthers, who had entered the game viewed by many as sizable underdogs before overcoming the odds and leading late before Havre de Grace rallied.
Despite losing the Susquehanna Bowl 45-15 back in week three, Perryville firmly believed the playoff game would be different.
"Winning the last game [over Cambridge] made our bond even closer," said Stephenson. "We knew we could come in here and win, but it just didn't happen."
Instead of simply being happy to be there, Perryville came into Friday night's game looking like they knew something no one else did.
"We were like, 'they don't know what's coming.' They think they're getting Perryville week three and that's not the case," said Johnson. "It's a completely different team than the team they played week three, not only in mentality and attitude, but also execution, action, and everything else that goes along with it. Our kids didn't blink. They were ready for this. My heart breaks. This was my son's (Liam) last game, but all these kids are my sons. I love all those seniors. They are great kids. What's fortunate is I get to coach them in other sports (basketball and lacrosse). I'll get to have these kids around me. They played their butts off."
Early on, a repeat of the Susquehanna Bowl was a distainct possibility. Havre de Grace scored on the opening drive of the game on a 36-yard receiver screen from Gresock to Tommy Meehan. The speedy Meehan gave the Panthers fits all game.
After the teams traded fumble recoveries, Perryville marched to the Warriors' 16 before a fourth down pass was picked off in the end zone by Jaylen Day.
Havre de Grace needed just five plays to pad its lead. Meehan rushed for 15 then caught a 22-yard pass. Three plays later, Gresock scooted 42 yards for a TD on a read option to make it 14-0.
Perryville countered quickly. Tanner DiMauro returned the kickoff to the Warriors' 48. On 4th and 5 from the 43, Nasuta hit tight end Liam Johnson deep down the middle for a 37-yard gain. Kenyetta Bailey scored on the next play to slice the deficit in half, 14-7. Perryville took advantage of a poor punt to tie the game. Braden Yadlosky made a sprawling grab in the end zone for a 17-yard score to forge a 14-14 tie with 4:53 left in the second quarter.
The Panthers' Matt Woods recovered a fumble at the Perryville 49 on the next series to put his team back in business. Nasuta scrambled for 24 yards on second down then Bailey took a wraparound draw 26 yards for a go-ahead touchdown 48 seconds before halftime.
The Panthers went three-and-out on the first possession of the second half and Havre de Grace embarked on a game-tying, 13-play scoring drive finishing with a 10-yard pass from Gresock to a wide-open Jordan White.
Perrryville was able to regain a seven-point advantage before the Warriors tallied the game's final two touchdowns.
Stephenson said the season provided the Panthers with a valuable lesson that will serve them well in any future endeavor. "No matter what, we can do anything," the senior stalwart said. "The last time we played them, they blew us out. We came out here and we had a lead most of the game. They weren't expecting that. This is one of the hardest fighting teams I've ever played on."