Two newcomers join city’s postseason picture
Mervo, Reginald Lewis have their first playoff victories
When the region football championships kick off this weekend, four Baltimore City teams will be competing — two coming off the first playoff wins in school history and two continuing a long history of postseason play.
In a turnaround season under former Douglass coach Elwood Townsend, Reginald Lewis is in the Class 1A South region final for the first time with an 11-0 record. Mervo coach Patrick Nixon has the young No. 11 Mustangs (9-2) in the Class 4A North final riding an eight-game winning streak.
At Dunbar and Edmondson — the only city football programs ever to win state championships — the legacy continues. The Poets (8-3) are in the Class 2A North final in their 15th straight playoff appearance and 21st overall. Edmondson (5-6) earned a playoff berth for the 13th time and will take on Lewis in the 1A South final.
While having four teams in the region finals isn’t unprecedented for the city, coaches hope that it represents a continuing effort to improve the competitive level of city public school football — especially with two teams new to this level.
While 19 city programs have earned playoff berths since the city joined the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association in 1992 and began competing for state championships, only two have won state titles. Dunbar has won nine times, most recently in 2012, and Edmondson won in 2006. Of the 104 postseason wins by city football teams, the Poets have half. Their 52 wins is the state record for playoff victories. Edmondson has 18 wins, and Patterson has 10.
Still, several new teams have emerged to make the playoffs in recent years. Townsend turned Douglass into a state finalist in six years. The Ducks went to the Class 1A title game in 2013 and 2014 and narrowly missed the playoffs this year under new coach Alonzo Lee.
Townsend has Lewis undefeated and city Division I champions — the same way he began building Douglass. Although two city teams are guaranteed to reach the all-city 1A South region final, none is guaranteed to make it to the state final.
“I think it’s really growing,” said Lawrence Smith, in his 10th season as Dunbar’s coach. “We’ve got a lot of new faces around the city that’s more inclined with learning the game a little more, doing what you have to do to win a state championship. It takes dedication and the kids buying into the system, and that’s what those guys have done. The kids want to buy into how to get what they want to accomplish and the results are there. It’s really good for the area and it’s just a great time right now.”
At Mervo and Lewis, Nixon and Townsend have their players dedicated to reaching the playoffs and playing well there.
Mervo’s win over top-seeded and previously undefeated Sherwood might have been the biggest upset of the first round. The Mustangs began the season 1-2, but turned things around and earned the fourth seed in 4A North by two one-hundredths of a point. They face No. 8 Howard tonight at 7, marking the second straight year the teams have met in the playoffs.
“I think what it says is that we play pretty good football, too,” Nixon said of the win over Sherwood. “Sometimes we beat up on each other in the city and don’t get credit for the battles. When we’re paired up with other districts, we usually do well. Even though we lost [20-0], we played well against Howard last year and given the opportunity, we can play with anybody.”
At Lewis, a couple of players moved over from Douglass with Townsend, including senior quarterback Dariun Miller, who started in the state final with the Ducks as a sophomore. But much of the roster is home-grown.
“This year has been the most exciting year,” said junior wide receiver Kendall Wagner, who has been a Falcon for three years. “I couldn’t wait to start the year. We knew Miller was coming over with Coach Elwood, so it was kind of like we’ve got to do something special here.”
Wagner and running back Alfonzo Graham, a transfer from Ben Franklin, said Townsend expects a lot of hard work, but they’ve been pleased with the success: the first undefeated regular season in the school’s 15 years of varsity football.
Miller, a soft-spoken young man who fit well with his new team, helped his teammates with the transition to Townsend’s expectation of 100 percent dedication. Now, the quarterback tries to help his team put its success in perspective and stay focused on the ultimate prize as they take on Edmondson for the region title tonight at 6 at Poly.
“I tell them, ‘Y’all can’t get too happy with winning,’ ” Miller said. “You’ve got to learn how to be humble, stay humble all the time. When we’re down there, we have to be focused on the game until it’s zeros on the clock or we’re not going to get that championship.”
While Townsend has transformed two programs in the past nine years, he would like to see more city teams be competitive around the state. He said when it comes to the playoffs, you have to look at the bigger school classifications because having an all-city 1A South guarantees at least one state semifinalist.
Although some other jurisdictions have the same problem, he said scheduling can work against the city’s bigger schools. Mervo is one of only two city 4A schools and because teams earn more points toward the playoffs playing a bigger school, the Mustangs can be hurt because they have to play 3A, 2A and 1A teams. Sherwood, for example, played nine 4A teams and one 3A team, giving it a points advantage over Mervo with almost every win.
The city has nine1A schools and10 bigger schools, so Townsend said the same disadvantage can affect 3A and 2A programs.
In Class 2A North, Northwestern had the same record as fourth-seeded Overlea, 7-2, and more bonus points (for wins over teams with better records). However, Northwestern had five fewer win points than Overlea, because it played more small schools. Northwestern missed the playoffs by less than four-tenths of a point.
Of course, that’s going to happen sometimes, Townsend said, but he and other city officials hope to adjust the schedule to maximize the chances for the city’s bigger schools to make the playoffs when they have good records.
“I don’t think we’re as competitive as we can be in the 4A, 3A and 2A,” he said. “Dunbar’s done a really good job in the playoffs for 15 straight years. They went to the state championship the last year [Douglass] went and Edmondson’s always been there. We’ve made some progress but not as much as we possibly could as compared to the other districts.”
Reginald Lewis players practice for their game against Edmondson this evening at Poly. The 11-0 Falcons are in the Class 1A South region final for the first time.
Mervo players practice for their game against Howard tonight. The Mustangs’ victory over previously unbeaten Sherwood might have been the biggest upset of the first postseason round.