Dundalk football in transition year
The Dundalk High football team doesn’t seem like its rebuilding this season; it feels more like the Owls are passing into a new era.
Gone are record-setting quarterback Darrius Sample and head coach Sean Sandora, who helped lead Dundalk to a 20-5 record the previous two seasons and the school’s first appearance in a state championship game.
Sample is now suiting up for the Clarion University Golden Eagles, while Sandora resigned last spring to become the head coach at Archbishop Curley.
The new head coach is Matthew Banta, previously an assistant coach for the Owls. The new quarterback? Well, that’s yet to be determined.
“We have two highly capable sophomores competing for the job: Keyon Garrus and Treshawn Ray,” Banta said. “Sample is obviously a tough guy to replace.”
Sample, a dual-threat quarterback rushing and throwing, accounting for a large percentage of Dundalk’s offensive yardage and touchdowns the previous two seasons. Whoever becomes the Owls’ starter will not be expected to assume such a burden.
“Offensively we will have a new look,” Banta said. “My offensive coordinator, Jordan Emge, has done a good job putting together a system that takes advantage of our size up front and our athletes on the perimeter.”
The Owls scrimmaged Loyola Blakefield on Saturday, an MIAA A Conference school.
Running back Isaiah Antol broke a long touchdown run during the portion of the scrimmage when each team ran 10 plays.
Loyola “won” the part of the scrimmage played under game conditions, 10-7. Andre Lee caught a touchdown pass from Garrus.
“As a whole, I thought the scrimmage went well,” Banta said. “There were minor adjust- ments that need to be corrected, such as communication and conditioning level, but that will be resolved this week.
“It was great to compete against an A-level private school. The kids took up the challenge and we got better.”
It also gave the Owls a taste of what awaits them in their season opener next week at Calvert Hall, another MIAA A Conference school.
“There’s no way to sugar-coat it; Calvert Hall will be big and physical up front as well as athletic,” Banta said. “Again, our kids are excited for the challenge and opportunity. There has been a big buzz around our weight room and practice field; just mentioning [Calvert Hall] gets the kids fired up.”
Loyola mainly pounded the ball inside against Dundalk. The Owl defense made a good stand, holding the Dons scoreless on five plays from the Dundalk seven-yard line.
(Loyola was erroneously awarded a fifth down when the officials lost count of the number of downs following a penalty. Hey, it was a scrimmage.)
Last season, Dundalk’s defense posted six shutouts.
“Matching six shutouts will be no easy task,” Banta said. “However, I am excited about this group we have this year. These guys have been in my system going on three years now.
Losing Chrys Lane was tough, but I have a couple of eager guys that have put in the work and are ready for their chance.”
Lane, a standout linebacker who played in the Big 33 Game against Pennsylvania, now plays for Shepherd University.
In addition to Antol, key returning starters for the Owls are senior safeties Alex hafner and Antonio Sellars, senior tackle Warren Cornish and linebacker Josh Butler.
Among the new starters who are expected to step up and have an impact are tackle Alphonso Cornish, slot receiver Christon Fitzgerald and wide receiver Willie Fedd Jr.
The Owls host Franklin on Oct. 28. The Indians, Class 3A state finalists last year, handed Dundalk three of its five losses the previous two years (two in the regular season, one in the playoffs).
Other key games are at Parkville on Oct. 7 (Dundalk won 17-12 last season), at Perry Hall on Oct. 13 (Owls won 28-21 last season) and against Milford Mill on Oct. 27 (Millers beat Dundalk 27-22 last year).
Banta, a Columbia native, was an all-conference linebacker for Salisbury University and was the team captain. After graduation, he was a graduate assistant for Salisbury and helped coach the defensive backs.
Sandora, who also played for Salisbury, contacted Banta in 2015 about an opening for a teaching/coaching position at Dundalk. Banta has been with the Owls for the 12-2 state finals run and last year’s 8-3 season.
“Sean was like an older brother to me,” Banta said. “He taught me a lot about running a program and I am grateful for the time spent with him.” The new era appears off to a good start. “The transition has been very smooth, Banta said. “When I took the job back in April, my staff and I hit the ground running. We worked extremely hard in the offseason and during the 7-on-7’s, so there was really no time for the kids to look back.”
Dundalk’s Alex Hafner and Marquis Stafford bring down a Loyola Blakefield ballcarrier.
Isaiah Antol broke a long touchdown run against Loyola Blakefield during Saturday’s scrimmage.
Andre Lee catches a touchdown pass during Dundalk’s scrimmage against Loyola Blakefield on Saturday.