In the first five years of the Maryland Crab Bowl senior all-star game, the Baltimore-area team has failed to win consecutive games.
This year's squad will have a chance start a winning streak after last year's beat the Washington, D.C.-area seniors 28-7, led by former Gilman safety Wyatt Dickerson's two first half interceptions and touchdowns from Stephen Scott (Poly), Garrett Bean (Westminster), Michael Anderson (Howard) and Isaiah Gills (Harford Tech).
But with a new crop of seniors, Baltimore coach Sean Murphy — who led Archbishop Curley to a 9-2 record this year — said he expects the sixth Crab Bowl on Saturday be completely different.
"It's a totally different group," Murphy said. "We're going to be trying to figure out the next couple of days what our strengths are and how we can just take advantage of their ability."
The Baltimore squad will be led by a glut of All-Metro first-team players on offense, including offensive tackle Jared Cohen, from McDonogh, and center Alex Helm, from Fallston.
Duke Etchison will suit up at quarterback for his second-straight all-star game, after contributing to a 15-7 Metro team win over a Baltimore squad in the Baltimore Touchdown Club All-Star game last Saturday. The Westminster senior passed for 2,916 and 33 touchdowns this season, including seven in a 51-22 October win over Century, which tied the single-game state record.
"At Westminster, they throw the ball a lot and I did see them play on film," Murphy said. "He is one of the state leaders. Obviously, when he's in, we'll be looking to throw the football."
The Baltimore-area team includes players from Baltimore, Carroll, Harford and Howard counties. A few local standouts will also play for the Washington group, which includes Anne Arundel County.
Three Annapolis Area Christian athletes are on that roster: Offensive tackle Jonathan Haynes, wide receiver Demetrius Johnson and defensive tackle Olugbenga Akinyode. Johnson, a Scout.com three-star recruit considering offers from Syracuse, Marshall and Old Dominion, had 21 catches for 416 yards and four touchdowns this year. He also played safety, where he totaled 105 tackles, two sacks, three fumble recoveries and four interceptions.
Washington coach Elijah Brooks, from DeMatha, said he was excited to work with Johnson.
"He's a fantastic talent," Brooks said. "His ability to stretch the field and use his speed and size against opponents is definitely an advantage for him."
Zach Abey, The Baltimore Sun's All-Metro Offensive Player of the Year, will line up at safety in the Crab Bowl, after the 6-foot-2, 205-pound quarterback slipped through the cracks in the initial roster selection.
"We obviously missed Zach," said Tony Kennedy, the director of football operations for the Mid-Atlantic Football Foundation. "Instead of saying, 'oh well,' we wanted to make sure that he is among his peers."
Abey threw for 874 yards, 10 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, while also running for 1,663 yards and 19 touchdowns on 238 carries. He led Archbishop Spalding to an 8-3 record and a third-place finish in the Maryland Interscholatsic Athletic Association A Conference.
"Not everyone will play the position that they normally play, because in college, you don't know," Kennedy said. "If he goes out there and dominates at safety, it will make his stock go up even higher."
The Crab Bowl has spotlighted such talents as Dunbar's Tavon Austin, now a wide receiver for the St. Louis Rams, and Jelani Jenkins, who grew up in Olney and plays linebacker for the Miami Dolphins. A more-recent Crab Bowl stud was Northwestern running back Terrance West, a junior at Towson University.
West ran for 354 yards and five touchdowns in a 49-39 win over Eastern Illinois on Dec. 14, to propel the Tigers to the Football Championship Subdivision semifinals. He set the single-game FCS playoff record with that performance and could enter the 2014 NFL Draft after this season.
Brooks said he had heard from a smattering of FCS, Division II and Division III schools who were planning to send scouts to Saturday's game.
"You never know who is watching, and this game could be a huge opportunity for our players who are flying under the radar," Brooks said. "You can never underestimate an opportunity to show your talents."
The Baltimore team will feature players from Class 3A state champion Franklin and 1A champion Fort Hill. No players from 4A champion Northwest or 2A champion Middletown will participate in the game.