The inaugural I-95 Kickoff Classic begins Friday evening at Towson University’s Unitas Stadium, pitting the MIAA versus the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference, two of the premier conferences in the Maryland-D.C. corridor. 

It will also be a showcase for some of the top talent in the Mid-Atlantic region, capable of making the clutch pass or run under pressure, or bone crunching block to open a big run.

In other words, they are game changers.

Gonzaga (D.C.) vs. McDonogh School, Friday, 7:30 p.m.

The Game Changer: Kevin Hogan, QB, Gonzaga

A national Top 20 recruit in his position, Hogan has all the physical goods (6-foot-5, 200 pounds), mobile and has a big-time arm. Last season, he passed for 1,872 yards and 16 touchdowns after throwing 10 scores in six starts as a sophomore. Hogan has given a verbal commitment to Jim Harbaugh (former Ravens quarterback and brother of Ravens head coach John Harbaugh) and the Stanford Cardinal.

The matchup

Ironically, McDonogh begins the post-Rudy Johnson era Friday. Johnson (University of Buffalo), a four-year starter at quarterback, was one of several key offensive stalwarts who graduated.

The good news is the Eagles are experience in the interior on both sides with Roman Bragilo, Allen Jackson, EJ Conway, Charles McDonald, Keaton Sanders and Daquan Roscoe.  McDonogh’s defense will likely have to lead the way for a fledging offense.

Gonzaga’s offense did have much trouble in its opener last week against McKinley Tech (D.C.) in a 41-16 rout. Hogan completed 2-of-3 passes including a 63-yard score in limited action as the Eagles scored 21 points in the opening quarter, en route to a 35-0 halftime advantage.

McDonogh has won its season debut, dating back to 2004.

 

Bishop McNamara vs. Mount St. Joseph, Saturday, 10:30 a.m.

The Game Changer: Nico Law, DB, Bishop McNamara

In his first varsity season, Law had 67 tackles and four interceptions, garnering second-team all-league honors in the talent-stacked WCAC. At 6-3, 195 pounds, Law could be a powerful safety at the next level. Cincinnati, Iowa, Louisville Maryland and West Virginia are his final college choices.

The matchup

The Blake Henry era kicks off Mount St. Joseph. Henry, a former assistant under Brian Abbott at Loyola Blakefield, looks to rebuild the Irvington school after a 2-8 showing in 2009.

Henry is excited about his receiving corps, led by seniors Devonte Jones, Russell LeClair and Henry Sturgill. Junior Craig Costabile will direct the Gaels’ spread offense with senior Jeff Matthews in the backfield. Mount St. Joseph scored only 78 points last season.

The defense features seniors Jermani Alston and Mike Dahl and juniors Syhee Clark, Hunter Eubanks and Mike Monaghan up front, and Robert Gandy and senior Jeff Robinson leading the linebackers. It will be tested against McNamara, ranked No. 21 in the state media poll.

The Mustangs are led offensively by Hannibal Smith, who rushed for 1,146 yards and 11 touchdowns last season as the Prince George’s County private school reached the WCAC postseason for the fourth straight year. Smith, a second-team All-WCAC selection, is being pursued by Towson.

No. 10 Archbishop Spalding (0-1) vs. No. 3 Calvert Hall College (1-0)

The Game Changer: Adrian Amos, DB, Calvert Hall College

Once a 5-5, 145 pound freshman, Amos (now  has become a Division I safety/cornerback recruit with offers from . Amos, who rotates from safety to cornerback, showed why he’s among VSN’s 15 players to watch last weekend with a 45-yard interception return that led to a touchdown in Calvert Hall’s 24-7 victory over St. John’s (D.C.). He helped sparked the Cardinals’ win last season over Gilman School with a forced fumble.

The matchup

For the second straight week, defending MIAA B champ Spalding gets a tough assignment with an A program. The Cavaliers fell at home to No. 1 Gilman School, 41-14, last Friday.

After falling behind 28-0 at halftime, Spalding got touchdown second-half runs from Scott Saine and JD Ison. Ison finished with 96 yards rushing while senior KK Smith churned in 153.

The Cardinals scored 17 points in a five-minute stretch in the second quarter, paving the way to victory against St. John’s, which had won the previous six meetings. In his debut, junior quarterback Thomas Stuart tossed scoring passes to CJ Williams and Trevor Williams.

Sparked by an interception return by Amos and a Trevon Barnes’ fumble recovery in the first half, Calvert Hall slowed down St. John’s in the second half, allowing 73 yards.  The Cardinals go after a third straight revenge Saturday.

Last season, Calvert Hall controlled the game for more than three quarters, but it was Spalding which emerged with a 14-9 victory, leaving the Cardinals at 0-2. Since then, The Hall has gone 9-2.

DeMatha Catholic vs. No. 9 Loyola Blakefield

The Game Changer: Cyrus Kouandjio, OL, DeMatha

The country’s No. 1 offensive line prospect, Kouandjio (6-7, 290) has the making of a future NFL player with his wing-span and impressive frame. Last season, he and his brother Arie helped Marcus Coker (Iowa) tattered Gilman’s defense for 392 yards and five touchdowns. Alabama (where Arie is a freshman), Georgia, Iowa, Maryland, Miami, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Pittsburgh, Tennessee, USC are in the hunt for his services.

The matchup

The Dons kick off their season against the premier program in the state. It will be the varsity debut for promising senior quarterback Mike Fafaul, who will head up an offense that’ll have juniors Ryan Black and Tamar Boone in the backfield. Up front, seniors Luke Ilardo and Dave Rogers will lead with juniors Jeff Jenkins and Jon Moran, and sophomore Sam Evans.

Evans and Rogers spearhead the defensive line with junior Taylor Janoskie and senior Ryan Young at linebacker. The secondary will feature senior Jimmy Holder and juniors Deemer Class, Jordan Floyd and Mike Smith.

After its streak of WCAC titles were ended at six by Good Counsel, DeMatha make its 2010 debut. The Hyattsville school is again stacked with Division I talent, led by five-star prospect Kouandjio,  Virginia commit Kelby Johnson on the offensive line, and tight end Sam Collura (Pittsburgh). The backfield will include Darian Harris (Michigan State commit), Delonte Morton, Jacob Siwicki and Desmond Williams.

Darian Cooper and Kendall Patterson, both D-1 prospects, will help man the defensive front with Sam Lebbie and Harris at linebacker. The Stags, ranked No. 2 in the state, are 22-2 over the last two seasons with both losses coming against Good Counsel.

 

Darius JenningsGood Counsel (1-0) vs. No. 1 Gilman School (1-0)

The Game Changers: Darius Jennings, Gilman & Blake Countess, Good Counsel

Jennings needed only one play to remind those why he’s the area’s top prospect, taking the opening kickoff 88 yards to the end zone in last week’s opener against Archbishop Spalding. A combination of speed and elusiveness, Jennings (5-11, 180) accounted for more than 2,700 yards and 35 touchdowns last fall. His college options include Boston College, UCONN, Maryland, Ohio State, Penn State, Pittsburgh, UCLA, Virginia, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest. Jennings will be a wide receiver or defensive back in college.

Countess is a top 20 national cornerback prospect after breaking up 20 passes last fall to go along with 50 tackles. His 5-10, 175 pound frame isn’t overwhelming but he’s arguably one of the most technically skilled cover performers in the nation. Countess was recently invited to the U.S. Army All-American contest.

Countess, who holds more than two dozen offers, transferred from Gilman to Good Counsel after his sophomore season.

Imagine Countess and Jennings both playing now for Gilman. Frightening.

The matchup

This is the one avid Maryland high school football followers have been waiting for. Both teams passed their respective opening tests in impressive fashion last weekend.

Gilman jumped to a 28-0 halftime lead en route to a 41-14 romp over Archbishop Spalding as Darius Jennings rushed for 180 yards and scored five touchdowns (two on kickoff returns). Junior running back Cyrus Jones added a scoring run for the defending MIAA A champs, ranked No. 3 in the state media poll.

Before a cable television, Good Counsel rallied in the fourth quarter for a 21-6 victory over Midwest power St. Xavier (Ohio) in Cincinnati. The Falcon returned two interceptions for touchdown with Michael Jefferson going 55 yards and Stephon Diggs shortly following with 50-yard return.

Diggs, a junior, had a forced fumble and caught five passes for 91 yards. The Falcons, ranked No. 10 nationally by USA Today and No. 1 in the state, forced seven turnovers and allowed 207 yards.

Last season, Good Counsel posted a 49-37 decision as Diggs scored three touchdowns including a pair of kickoff return for scores. Jennings went for 273 yards and three touchdowns.

Expect some big-time fireworks Saturday evening.