Football season kickoffs Thursday; public playoffs getting makeover


by Derek Toney

One team’s trying to get local recognition. The other fancies itself a national championship contender.

Green Street Academy and St. Frances Academy couldn’t be more polar opposites, but the Baltimore City private schools are front and center as the 2019 area football season starts Thursday.

Green Street, a West Baltimore charter school, plays California’s Laguna Beach at St. Mary’s Ryken in Leonardtown Thursday evening. The Chargers went 8-1 in its second varsity season last year, capped with a victory over public school Douglass.

Green Street, which only lost to Edmondson in 2018, also defeated public schools New Era Academy, and Western Maryland publics Frederick and Hancock. The Chargers went 9-2 in its inaugural varsity season in 2017.

St. Frances, which made its announcement as a national player in 2017 with a dominating run to the MIAA A Conference championship, will be in the spotlight Saturday with a nationally televised match against Miami’s Central, ranked No. 15 in USA Today’s Super 25 preseason poll.

It will be the first of several tests for the East Baltimore school (ranked No. 2 by MaxPreps and 6th by USA Today), which romped through an hastily assembled schedule in 2018 after its MIAA A counterparts opted late last spring not to play St. Frances, citing safety and competitive imbalance concerns.

After a summer of contentious debate, the MIAA Executive Board decided before the start of preseason practice to effectively cancelled regular season (no standings kept) and postseason play in the A Conference, and St. Frances was declared champions. The Panthers are an independent this year, and the MIAA A is resuming regular season and playoffs.

Where St. Frances (No. 4 in USA Today Super 25 last year) had only two notable games -Philadelphia’s St. Joe’s Prep (cancelled in third quarter due to weather) and Georgia 6A state champ Lee – last season, it will be vastly different in 2019. The Panthers have dates with California’s Mater Dei, ranked No. 1 by MaxPreps and 3rd by USA Today, Florida private powerhouse IMG Academy (last team to beat St. Frances) and New Jersey’s St. Joseph Regional (No. 22 by MaxPreps) and Illinois state power Simeon.

Three area privates, Calvert Hall College, Gilman School and Mount St. Joseph, begin its 2019 campaign as well. The remaining area privates will make their season debut next weekend while public programs open play the weekend of Sept. 6th-7th.

There will be a new playoff structure in the state public school ranks for the first time since 2004. The postseason field in the four classifications (4A, 3A, 2A, 1A) doubles from 16 to 32 as the top eight teams in each region will qualify.

Previously, the top four teams in each region made the playoffs. The regular season will be now nine games instead of 10.

The change was approved in April by the MPSSAA Board of Control.

The region championship game format is eliminated as, after the first two rounds in region play, the remaining eight teams in each classification will be reseeded by point-average.

In the 2A playoffs last year, River Hill and Glenelg (South) New Town and Eastern Tech (North), Elkton and North Caroline (East) and Frederick County’s Oakdale and Montgomery County’s Damascus (West) played in the region final.

Under the new format, Damascus, which had the highest point average at 12.20, would’ve played River Hill (7.30), with Glenelg/New Town, North Caroline/Elkton and Oakdale/Eastern Tech the other matchups.

There were cases over the last several years where the perceived best two teams in a classification played in the region final as well as 7-3 teams not qualifying for region playoffs.

Both situations would not occur under the new postseason format.

Weekend previews

Green Street Academy vs. Laguna Beach 

When: Thursday Aug. 22, 6:30 p.m.

Where: St. Mary’s Ryken

Overview: Green Street Academy begins its third varsity season after collecting 17 wins over its first two campaigns.

The Chargers will be led by seniors Shane Cooper (tight end/linebacker), Gregory Fowkles (offensive/defensive line), Da’twone Gibson (defensive line) and juniors Elijah Gorham (running back/linebacker) and Khyree Elliott (wide receiver/defensive back).

Laguna Beach is playing its first game outside of California as sightseeing ventures to the District, Baltimore and New York is part of its East Coast trip. Laguna went 10-3 on the gridiron last season, reaching the California Interscholastic Federation Division 12 semifinals.

Senior quarterback Andrew Johnson threw for 3,246 yards and 42 touchdowns, both school records, last season. The Breakers also feature seniors Noah Driver (wide receiver/linebacker), Connor Fink (wide receiver/linebacker) and Sammer Tarazi (offensive/defensive line).

Mount St. Joseph at St. Mary’s Ryken

When: Friday, 7 p.m.

Overview: The Lambert Cup will be on the line as the Gaels make their 2019 debut. Mount St. Joseph (10-2 last season) expects to contend for the MIAA A championship returning senior running back Marlowe Wax (committed to Syracuse University) and juniors Billy Atkins (quarterback) and Donte Thornton (wide receiver) on offense and seniors Tyler Leavy (line), Wax Nate Slutzky (linebacker) and Richmond commit Aamir Hall (defensive back).

St. Mary’s Ryken (10-2 last season) won the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference Metro Division title last season. Senior tight end/defensive end Kyle Wheeler, who’s committed to Howard, and juniors Jamaree Bowman (running back/linebacker) and Will Johnson (wide receiver/defensive back) will lead the Knights.

St. Joe’s won, 49-7, last season for a 3-2 advantage in possession of the Lambert Cup.

St. Frances Academy at Central (FL)

When: Saturday, 12 p.m.

Overview: After having to play three Canadian schools last season, St. Frances begins the first of four matches this season against Florida schools, starting with the top-ranked team in Miami. The Panthers, ranked No. 2 nationally by MaxPreps and winners of 23 straight, have a mega-stacked roster featuring Alabama commit Chris Braswell (defensive end/linebacker), LSU commits Jordan Toles (defensive back) and Demon Clowney (defensive end) and Michigan pledges Blake Corum (running back) and Osman Savage (linebacker).

Central needed a second half push to turn away defending Georgia 6A state champ Cedar Grove in its season opener last weekend. Utah commit Katravis Marsh (quarterback) and linemen Laurence Seymore (Miami commit) highlights Central offense while senior Henry Gray is one of the nation’s top cornerbacks.

Riverdale Baptist School at Gilman School

When: Saturday, 1 p.m.

Overview: It’s nowhere but up for Gilman after suffering one of its worst seasons (1-9) in decades. The Greyhounds have back several experience performers, led by Baltimore Touchdown Club 22 selection Stefan Gladis (line), senior Devin Grinnage (line), senior wide receiver/defensive back Jackson McCambridge and sophomore running back Jermaine Conyers.

Riverdale Baptist from Upper Marlboro went 7-5 last season, including a victory over MIAA B finalist St. Vincent Pallotti and losses to MIAA A squads Archbishop Spalding and Calvert Hall College. Jeremiah Morgan (wide receiver/defensive back) has offers from Sacred Heart and Davidson, and quarterback Jontae Davis and wide receiver Melvin Jacobs returns for the Crusaders.

Calvert Hall College at Woodland Hills (PA)

When: Saturday, 8 p.m.

Overview: Coming a school-best 12 wins in 2018, Calvert Hall begins its 2019 campaign in the “Steel City.” It will be the showcase match of Woodland’s 2nd annual Western Pennsylvania vs. Everyone Showcase.

The Cardinals are a legitimate contender for the MIAA A title, returning an offensive unit including junior quarterback Amir Watkins, Syracuse commit Sean Tucker and senior wideout Cole Herbert. Villanova commit Ty Trinh (defensive back) and Baltimore Touchdown Club Super 22 linebacker Khalil Glover (Delaware State commit) will anchor the defense.

Woodland Hills is hoping to rebound from a 5-7 showing last season. Senior tight end/defensive line Josh Rawlings, Jeff Williams (wide receiver/defensive back) and Jeremie Thomas (offensive/defensive line) will lead Woodland Hills.