Edmondson football coach Corey Johnson wasn’t too worried after his Red Storm lost its season opener to Archbishop Curley, 42-6.
“When we came out of the game, I wasn’t feeling bad like we were a bad football team,” Johnson said. “I just thought we ran against some things my young kids probably weren’t able to handle at that juncture of the season.”
The rebuilding Red Storm had a lot of newcomers on the line and at most skill positions. On defense only three starters returned. With so many new faces, Johnson knew it would take time to develop this team, but the Red Storm has made steady improvement in winning seven straight games. They capped that streak with an 18-15 upset of previously-undefeated and then-No. 12 Mervo Friday afternoon.
“That was big for us,” Johnson said. “Beating Mervo gave us a lot of playoff points, 15 points and getting those bonus points was big. We’re first in the region and overall first as well. If we finish off beating Carver and Dunbar, we could be undefeated in the city and the No. 1 overall seed [for the Class 1A playoffs]."
As it stands now, the 15th-ranked Red Storm has the highest points average, 9.53, of any team in Class 1A. Defending state champion Fort Hill is second with an 8.33 average. The team with the highest average would have home field advantage through the state semifinals if it makes it that far. The title game is played at M&T Bank Stadium
That would be a long way from the Red Storm's start, but Johnson expected his young players could grow into a good team. He saw it in a 14-8 win over then-No. 15 Douglass on Sept 25.
The past two years, the Ducks had defeated Edmondson in the regional playoffs – 45-2 last season and 20-14 in overtime the year before – and had gone on to reach the state final.
“The way they beat us in the playoffs the last two years, that win was really big for our program, particularly because they’re on the west side with us,” Johnson said, noting that Douglass easily handled a good Bel Air team the next week.
“We knew Douglass had a little turmoil from the week before (the Edmondson game), but we beat a really good football team,” Johnson said of the assault by one Ducks player against another that resulted in attempted murder charges and shut down the program for a week.
“I thought we turned the corner and we let our guys know that. We got it out of their minds that the only reason we won the game was because they had some problems the week before. We played some really good football. That’s why this game against Mervo was big for us, because it was like, 'Hey, we do have a solid group. We’re young but we’re still a pretty good team.'”
Senior running back/receiver Bilal Omar, who caught five passes for 166 yards and two touchdowns against Mervo, played a key role in the final minutes, catching four balls on the last drive and drawing three penalties – two for holding and one for pass interference.
The Red Storm went 87 yards in 5:37 and sophomore running back Kamal Highsmith scored the game winner on a 6-yard run with 27 seconds left in the game.
Sophomore quarterback Teon Gardner was 7-for-9 on the final drive and finished 16-for-24 for 193 yards and two touchdowns.
Johnson also gave plenty of credit to the defense, which has allowed just 35 points since the loss to Curley.
Defensive ends James Williamson and Cameran Edwards, linebackers Shamar Barnes and Kevin Jones and defensive tackle Tyshaun Ravenell led the effort. They held Mervo to just 15 yards of offense in the first half.
Now, the Red Storm is looking for a big finish, heading to Carver on Friday before facing Dunbar on Nov. 6 for the Ben Eaton Memorial Trophy. The game against the Poets is scheduled as an afternoon game at Edmondson, but Johnson wants to move it to Poly, so they can play under the lights.
"My kids really want a night game," Johnson said. "We have been under the radar for most of the season and I want them to be in a marquee game that everyone can actually come out to see."