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McDonogh plays like member of 'A' crowd


Last week's 42-22 rout by three-time Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association B football champion McDonogh over A Conference power Mount St. Joseph renewed the call for the Eagles to move up to the A -- traditionally the stronger of the two leagues.

McDonogh vacated the upper conference in 1995, after going 0-8. And its officials, despite past urgings of rivals in both conferences, had cited size and athletic disadvantages as reasons for resisting a return.

But now, the Eagles (2-0) -- who have risen from No. 11 to No. 4 in the rankings -- might not be able to stay down.

"Usually, if you look at the numbers we have in football vs. the numbers the A Conference teams get, we don't match up, so we've stayed down," said McDonogh coach Dominic Damico, whose team nevertheless has beaten past A champ Loyola twice, and both Gilman and Mount St. Joseph once each, while his team played in the B Conference.

Last weekend's victory over Mount St. Joseph came after a season-opening 34-24 victory at Chambersburg (Pa.) before a crowd of 8,000. Chambersburg was projected to finish as well as 8-2 in the most difficult conference of the Mid-Pennsylvania Commonwealth League.

"We know after this year we'll probably be asked (by MIAA officials) to play up in the A," Damico said. "I'm sure that's pretty much a done deal."

Damico is 41-16 in seven seasons at McDonogh, including a 23-game winning streak in the B Conference. Since dropping into the B Conference in 1996, McDonogh is 26-2 against that league.

Damico holds a 27-3 record over the past three seasons, all of the losses in that span coming to nationally ranked rival Gilman. Yet not even the Greyhounds, ranked No. 1 three straight years by The Sun and currently No. 1 in the state, have placed as many Division I players as Damico during his tenure.

Damico has had seven first-team All-Metro players, four of them as a B Conference coach. Four of the seven Division I signees he has coached -- lineman Lance Clellan (Northwestern), place-kicker Cap Poklemba (Temple), linebacker T. C. Cosby (Penn State) and defensive back Erik King (Wake Forest via Hill School in Pennsylvania) -- came from the B Conference champion.

Damico, 36, said he's surprised by this year's success, considering only three of his current players -- 6-foot-4, 260-pound Kellen Williams, linebacker Matt Giellen (6-2, 230) and quarterback Joe Benson, who played punter and safety last year -- had significant playing time.

So why did McDonogh's 5-7 running back, E.J. Hamilton, so easily shred St. Joe for nearly 150 yards and five touchdowns?

"Our success is because we have good coaches in all of our sports, and our programs share athletes," Damico said. "I'm blessed with young men who respond well to coaching, know how to win, like each other and want to see each other succeed."

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