Two new­com­ers join city’s post­sea­son pic­ture

Mervo, Regi­nald Lewis have their first play­off vic­to­ries

Baltimore Sun - - VARSITY FOOTBALL - By Katherine Dunn katherine.dunn@balt­ twit­

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.

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