BALTIMORE- High school football was officially back in action Saturday morning at the Ravens 7 on 7 high school football tournament presented by Under Armour. And if it provided any indication on how the 2015 high school football season will come about, then we are in for a promising season.
Many teams from around the state of Maryland participated in the marquee off-season event, including six of the top ranked teams from the 2014 season: McDonogh (2), Northwest (3), Linganore (7), Mount St. Joseph (8), Old Mill (9) and Fort Hill (12).
And many coach’s arrived to St. Paul’s yesterday morning with the same game-plan as one another, to create a vibe of competitiveness while syncing up their offenses and testing the defensive waters with low expectations.
As opposed to a traditional high school football game that plays four, 12 minute quarters, with a helmet and protection gear, the 7 on 7 football tournament is ran little differently. There is no protection gear and no offensive linemen. Instead each team is required to use one quarterback and running back while lining up five wide receivers. The quarterback must pass the ball and only do it so in under four seconds. On defense, a team can ultimately only deploy seven players and down an opponent by using two hands or forearms.
The ball also started on the offense’s 40-yard line to start a possession in which they had four downs to make a first down at the 20 yard line in order to receive four additional downs. All touchdowns accounted for one point as well.
Even with all of the rule twists than what the average football fan is accustomed to, the games Saturday afternoon did not fail to impress.
Governor Thomas Johnson got us started off early in the morning as they faced Oxon Hill from PG County.
For Thomas Johnson, it’s a tale of new faces and youth after losing top offensive standouts, quarterback Tyler Magaha and wide receivers Kahari Kilgore and Tyler Leone. Head coach Jeremiah Smith would gather his Patriot squad before each game and drive home the words “adversity” and “endurance” trying to keep his group focused on the bigger picture, just coming out of the day better than when they arrived.
“We’re young and I really pressed on those two keys for today (adversity and endurance),” says Smith. “Today for us was to come out a better football team than what we were when we walked in. I think we accomplished that.”
Oxon Hill jumped out early, scoring on their first drive to make it 1-0 with under 36 minutes to play. Thomas Johnson went four and out on their first drive turning the ball back over to Oxon Hill in which they went four and out as well.
Patriot quarterback Dex Prue then came back on his very next drive to lead his team to their first score of the tournament as he connected with his teammate for the eight yard strike.
“We really like Dex back there,” says Smith. “He did pretty much everything we asked him to do today.”
Oxon Hill then regained control, scoring twice in a four minute time span to give them a commanding 3-1 lead with under 21 minutes to play. The youthful Thomas Johnson squad was faced with adversity in the early going and they couldn’t of responded to it any better as incoming junior linebacker John Fowles heaved in an interception and took it to the end zone to cut the deficit down to 3-2 Oxon Hill.
Fowles came back on the very next play and took advantage of a tipped pass, snagging his second interception in a row and put Thomas Johnson right back into contention.
“Folwes played on JV this past season and recorded six interceptions and he took three of those back for touchdowns,” says Smith. “He had five interceptions today and just seems to always have a knack for being at the right place at the right time.”
Thomas Johnson would take advantage of the turnover, capitalizing and driving back down the field to tie the game at 3-3 with 14:44 left.
Oxon Hill finally put the nail on the coffin, scoring the games final two touchdowns and were victorious over the Patriots with the final score of 5-3.
“I was pleased with the way we fought today,” says Smith. “We may not have won the games that we wanted to win, but we competed.”
Class of 2017 quarterback Dex Prue finished the game completing 11 of his 19 pass attempts and throwing for 138 yards and two touchdowns. Smith also noted that he expects to have a strong run game this season with the likes of Marcus Wattey and Nick Bishop and stated he would have one the better receivers in the county in Deshawn Green.
“We’re young and we just have to keep taking advantage of events like these,” says Smith.
While Thomas Johnson was playing in their first round game on Field 4, Urbana had a first round game of their own against Carroll County’s Centennial on Field 5. Urbana took charge from the gates and were victorious with the final score of 5-2.
Other 9:30 AM games:
Westminster defeats Brunswick
John Carroll defeats River Hill
Old Mill defeats Liberty
Mount St. Joseph defeats North Carroll
Douglass-Balt. defeats South Carroll
Northwest defeats Long Reach
With the 9:30 AM games wrapping up, the 10:30 AM first round games were on tap featuring Frederick County powerhouse Linganore as they faced Silver Oak Academy.
Linganore’s 2014 season ended in a 14-13 loss to Damascus in the 3A West region championship.
The Lancers were down for most of that game, but had a late fourth quarter charge fall short and failed to convert the go-ahead 2-point conversion with under two minutes remaining after quarterback Nathaniel Musselman lost his footing, coming up just feet shy of the pylon.
“I’ve been waiting to get back out here since that last snap,” says Musselman. “That moment drives us to work even harder. When someone was slacking off in the weight room, I’d let them know that that’s not acceptable and that we can’t afford to do those things.”
Musselman came right out of the gates, connecting with fellow receiver Jack Staub on a 32-yard bomb down the right sideline and put the ball where only Staub could make a play to put Linganore up 1-0 42 seconds into the game.
Even when Musselman was off the field watching his defense trying to force a stop, he’d be making sure his Linganore teammates would stay focused until the next offensive possession.
On the very next offensive drive on a 3rd and long, Musselman found running back Dante Butler on a five yard slant in the middle of the field. Butler then turned up the right sideline, made three Oxon Hill defenders miss and was off to the races putting Linganore up 2-0 with under five minutes into the game.
“It’s great just getting back out here and getting the feel of things,” says Butler.
In a game that was looking like a lopsided blowout, Silver Oak returned on their very next possession putting together a formidable drive to bring them within one with 31:03 left to play.
Linganore then stormed ahead and scored the games final five touchdowns, taking the win over Silver Oak, 7-1, as Musselman finished 15/20 with 247 yards and five touchdowns. Receivers Staub and Wade Stieren combined for nine receptions for 159 yards and three touchdowns.
Dante Butler finished with two touchdowns of his own and Dante’s little brother, eighth grade sensation Davon made his high school debut recording two receptions for 26 yards.
“Being out here for the first time with the team, it feels really good,” says the younger Butler. “Catching that first pass from Musselman was a great feeling. I’ve been waiting for that moment for a long time.”
Davon, who scored 26 total touchdowns over the course of seven games in his eighth grade campaign last year has a rare skill set for a 14-year old. He runs a 4.40 40-yard dash and ran his routes like a varsity veteran.
“We’re excited to have the opportunity to coach Davon,” says head coach Rick Conner. “He’s a special talent.”
Other 10:30 AM games:
McDonogh defeats Mount Hebron
Edmondson defeats Overlea
Patterson defeats Howard
Broadneck defeats Williamsport
St. Paul’s defeats Century
Fort Hill defeats Manchester Valley
Perry Hall defeats Kent County
After the first round concluded, the second round got underway at 11:30 AM with the Urbana Hawks facing football powerhouse Mount St. Joseph.
For Urbana, they are entering an era without three year varsity starters quarterback Donovan Pannell and one of the greatest running back’s in Frederick County history Raekwon Gray.
“It’s going to be hard to replace guys like Ray Gray and Donovan Pannell that made a big impact throughout our program,” says head coach Dave Mencarini. “Now we have younger guys to fill those roles.”
Mount St. Joseph jumped out to an early 1-0 lead just four minutes into the game while the youth and inexperience got the best of Mencarini’s Hawks in the early going. Mount St. Joseph found the end zone twice more putting them in control 3-0 with just under 20 minutes to play.
“I don’t know if we have a Ray Gray in our program, but we do have a bunch of kids that are football driven and are willing to carry on the great tradition that we have,” says Mencarini.
Urbana found life in rising quarterback Chase Carbaugh as the Hawks put together two quick scores in over a 1:30 minute time span to cut the deficit down to 3-2.
Mount. St. Joseph then responded on the very next play going 40-yards down the field for the deep touchdown, putting them ahead 4-2 with under seven minutes to play.
But Urbana would not go away as they fought and battled to get stop after stop and put together a nice steady drive to bring them within one with 3:10 left in the game.
Urbana forced a much needed turnover-on-downs as they received the ball back with 23 seconds left still down one score. But it was too little too late as the Hawks comeback bid fell short to a very athletic, play-making Mount St. Joseph’s team.
“We only brought two guys with us today that played offensive snaps with us on varsity last year with a majority of them being incoming sophomores and juniors,” says Mencarini. “Considering the experience that we have, I’m very pleased with the way we performed today.”
Urbana opens up the regular season with Baltimore’s Millford Mill and Mencarini noted that Elijah Atkins and rising sophomore Gage Dickens would play key roles at the running back position this season for the Hawks.
Other 11:30 AM games
John Carroll defeats Westminster
Old Mill defeats Oxon Hill
Northwest defeats Douglass-Balt.
On tap for the 12:30 PM second round games was an intriguing match-up against Linganore and Baltimore County stalwart Perry Hall.
The first seven minutes of the game saw Linganore and Perry Hall going back and forth. Each team forcing stop after stop. Then in just over a seven minute time span Linganore put three touchdown’s on the board while Perry Hall put one score up of their own. The Lancers took a commanding 3-1 lead just 15 minutes into the game that featured Linganore scores from Jack Staub twice and Dante Butler once.
“Perry Hall was very athletic and very fast, it was fun competing with a good team like them,” says Staub.
On the very next Perry Hall possession, Linganore linebacker Derek Benjamin hauled in an interception to keep the Lancers momentum rolling. They then turned the turnover into yet another score putting them up 4-1 with under 21 minutes to play.
But as expected, Perry Hall would not go down without a fight as they immediately responded to cut the deficit down to 4-2 with just under 18 minutes remaining. On the next drive, Linganore quarterback Nathaniel Musselman forced a ball in the back end of the end zone that was picked off by an opposing Perry Hall defensive back as you could feel the momentum shifting from one sideline to another.
The 4-2 score in favor of Linganore held for the next ten minutes until Perry Hall brought it to within one with just under seven minutes remaining. Linganore then slammed the door on a potential Perry Hall comeback, sustaining a drive that featured a 13-yard reception by Staub, 9-yard reception by Davon Butler and then Staub found the end zone for the 18-yard strike putting Linganore up 5-3 as they held on for the second round win.
“I’m out here getting my football fix on,” says head coach Rick Conner. “We just beat a 4A state championship caliber team in Perry Hall. That’s exactly what we want our guys to do.”
Staub finished the game with nine receptions for 155 yards and accounted for three of the five Linganore scores.
Other 12:30 PM games
McDonogh defeats Edmondson
Broadneck defeats Patterson
Fort Hill defeats St. Paul’s
One of the top athlete’s in the country, McDonogh 4-star safety Eric Burrell was on display Saturday afternoon. Burrell is currently ranked as the 18th best safety in the nation, 263rd overall both by ESPN.com and has offers from Boston College, Duke, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Old Dominion, Rutgers, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest and Wisconsin.
“I’ve been to Duke and Wake Forest already, two schools that I really like,” says Burrell. “I have a visit with UVA (University of Virginia) June 6th and then a visit with Duke on June 7th so I’m on the road in the next month or so.”
Burrell stands at 6’0″ 174 pounds and uses his length and vertical to his advantage. His pursuit to the ball is really what stands him out above the rest and has an instinctual feel for the game of football.
“I’ve been working hard five days a week to really better myself everyday,” says Burrell. “I’m always talking to my coaches about what can I improve on and just always stay positive.”
Burrell has led McDonogh to an 18-3 record his past two years and is entering his fourth year at the varsity level.
“My personal focus going into my last year of high school is to work on one-on-one’s because when I get to college the intensity is going to be up,” says Burrell.
1:30 Semifinal games (Winners move on to M&T Bank Stadium June 19th)
John Carroll defeats Old Mill
Northwest defeats Mount St. Joseph
For Northwest, they are no strangers to M&T Bank Stadium as they have won back-to-back 4A state championships and are making another trip June 19th to play in the championship tournament.
They have one of the best quarterback’s in Montgomery County history, Mark Pierce who in his two years of playing varsity football at Northwest already has two state championships entering his senior season.
“Playing under the lights at M&T Bank Stadium for a state championship, it just doesn’t get any better,” says Pierce. “You dream of moments like that.”
Pierce would solidify his name as one of the best quarterback’s in Maryland high school football history if he can accomplish this feat: win three state championships in just as many years on the varsity level.
“To win three state championships in a row would be breathtaking,” says Pierce. “We’re going to give it our best shot.”
Pierce’s leadership on and off the field are no doubt his best trait. He has the body to make any throw needed to be made and can put the ball on the ground to extend the play if needed. Delaware, Lafayette and Towson are the top three schools that are expressing interest in Pierce.
If Northwest is going to accomplish the three-peat they will have to do it without one of Maryland’s top running back’s, E.J. Lee who graduated this year. When one play-maker goes, another will be forced to step up, something that Khalih Owens will have to take hold of if this Northwest team wants to make it to the promise land once again.
“Since E.J. (Lee) graduated, I’m going to be taking over the lead back role for this season,” says Owens who has been on varsity since his freshman year and has sat behind Lee for his past two seasons. “E.J. has taught me so much, on and off the field. I’m going to do whatever I can to get this team back to a state championship.”
John Carroll went on to beat Northwest, 8-7 in the Black Bracket championship game, but both teams qualified their way in to the championship tournament June 19th at M&T Bank Stadium.
In the Purple Bracket semifinals and the game to earn a bid to play June 19th under the lights at M&T Bank Stadium in the championship tournament would be two powerhouses of defending 1A state champions Fort Hill and Linganore.
As the games went on throughout the day the stakes grew and the atmosphere intensified. This game was no different.
Fort Hill and Linganore both came out with a bang, delivering scores on the first two drives as the game was knotted at one a piece with under 35 minutes remaining.
The game went back and forth as each team scored on their first three possessions and was still knotted up, 3-3 with 25:40 left in the deciding game to get to M&T Bank Stadium.
Fort Hill persisted to score at will, crossing the pylon to make it four offensive possessions and four touchdowns as they regained control once more, 4-3 with 22:40 remaining.
Linganore QB Nathaniel Musselman then put a two minute and 40 second long drive together that was capped off by a 15-yard touchdown reception by Wade Stieren to knot the game for the fourth time, 4-4 with 20 minutes left.
For Linganore they lost key play-makers at the wide receiver position in Adam Beisser and Grant Waxter, ultimately giving Jack Staub and Stieren a bigger workload. In the past two games, Staub and Stieren would continuously carry the burden at receiver and they continued to do so throughout the latter part of the afternoon.
“Wade (Stieren) and I will be seniors now, we’re going to have to step up,” says Staub. “It’s good bringing the rising juniors up here, to coach them up, get them experience for this season.”
Fort Hill then came right back and did what they have done on their first four possessions, drive down the field to keep tacking on more points to the scoreboard and charged ahead once more, 5-4 with 18:30 remaining.
Linganore head coach Rick Conner had enough of seeing his defense out of position and letting up easy scores for the opposition as he would gather his bunch together and make necessary adjustments before sending them back out on the field.
The Lancers finally forced their first stop of the day with under ten minutes remaining, still down 5-4. On the very next drive, Staub caught two passes for 35 yards to put Linganore on the doorstep with 6:20 remaining.
“Jack (Staub) and I picked up right where we left off last season in terms of chemistry,” says Musselman.
Musselman then found Dante Butler in the middle of the end zone for the 5-yard score to tie the game up once again, this time at 5-5 with under five minutes to play.
Linganore needed a stop, as a score for Fort Hill would send the Lancers packing. With 2:20 remaining and Fort Hill driving the ball down the field, Linganore linebacker Matthew Albano came up with the one of the biggest interceptions of the day and gave Linganore a chance to win the game.
On the first play of the next drive, Musselman hit incoming freshman Davon Butler on a short hitch route that he took 28-yards up the field to put Linganore within striking distance with 1:35 left to play. Noll Stieren then heaved in a reception to put the Lancers on the six yard line with 20 seconds remaining.
Musselman took the snap with 4.5 seconds until the end of regulation, still needing a score to push ahead. He dropped back while scanning the field and delivered a bullet to the eighth grade sensation Davon Butler as he brought it down in the end zone as time expires to win the game.
Conner had one word to say when asked about the play made by the soon-to-be freshman.
“Amazing,” he said.
His Linganore teammates nearly tackled him in excitement once the buzzer sounded. Davon’s elder brother, Dante, walked off the field with his arm around him, patting his little brother on the head as they shared a moment together.
“That was just amazing,” said Davon moments after sending his Linganore team to the championship tournament. “Musselman told me just run your route and try to get open and that he was going to look for me.”
Linganore would then face McDonogh in the Purple Bracket championship, but fell short 4-2.
“We got to M&T (Bank Stadium) which was one of our goals for today,” says Conner. “But our main goal was just to get out here and play Linganore football, also get these younger kids some experience. I thought they played great today. I’m proud of them.”
For many teams throughout the Ravens 7 on 7 high school football tournament, it was just to get back into the swing of football as each team starts 0-0 Week 1 and will look to put forth their best mark for the 2015 football season.
You can follow me on Twitter @k_fadd and make sure to follow Maryland Sports Access @MDSportsAccess.
Photos and a highlight video will be posted on our website very soon.