Varsity football notebook: Franklin counting on versatile trio

Franklin's Ian Thomas has no problem playing both ways on the football field.

"I like it, because I get to stay on the field," Thomas said with a laugh. "I don't like to come off the field, so that's a big plus."

Thomas, a junior wide receiver and safety who is a finalist for Army Iron Man of the Year as Maryland's top two-way high school football player, is one of three Indians who will line up on both sides of the ball in Friday's 7 p.m. state Class 3A semifinal at home against Huntingtown — just as they always do.

Thomas, along with seniors Mark Venable and Navassa Brown, can make big plays on offense or defense for the No. 6 Indians (10-2). Venable had the big play last week when he broke a 26-yard run to set up the game-winning touchdown — Joey Dorsey's quarterback sneak that beat then-No. 7 North Harford, 28-21.

"Part of our success has been that less guys play two ways," Indians coach Anthony Burgos said. "But obviously when you talk about athletes such as Ian Thomas and Mark Venable and Navassa Brown, there's no denying that they have to be on the field. They're huge playmakers and they can change the game dramatically."

Thomas has 18 touchdowns — 13 receiving as well as one on a punt return and one on an interception. Venable, a running back/linebacker, ran for 10 touchdowns, threw for four and ran an interception back for another. Brown, a running back/defensive back who missed the early part of the season with an injury, has caught six touchdown passes.

"It's definitely a challenge," Thomas said, "because I play wide receiver and safety, so on offense I'm focused on catching the ball, making the defender miss, but on defense, I'm focused on hitting the ball carrier and driving him back. It's two different mindsets."

Seniors lifting Broadneck

Not many teams have the luxury of experience that No. 3 Broadneck has this season. The Bruins dress 34 seniors and three of them — Va'a Niumatalolo, Trae Byes and Ron VanMeter — have been on the team all four years.

"They're obviously the nucleus of our team," coach Jeff Herrick said. "Those kids … they bring a lot of experience there. We have a lot of three-year guys too, and the ones with actual playing time have been playing for a long time at the varsity level, so they know the competition level and what's necessary to win."

That experience helped the Bruins in Class 4A East — one of the toughest regions in the state — turn the tables on two teams they had lost to during the regular season in defending state champion Old Mill and Arundel. Now, the Bruins (10-2) travel to Wise on Saturday at 1 p.m., looking for their first trip to the state title game since 2003.

Wildecats sure about 'D'

Wilde Lake coach Michael Harrison can be pretty confident in his defense these days. After giving up one touchdown each to favored opponents Atholton and River Hill, the No. 9 Wildecats certainly have confidence heading into their Class 3A semifinal Friday night at 7 p.m. Damascus, the No. 1 team in the state media poll.

In last week's 13-7 overtime win at River Hill, the Wildecats (9-3) scored on their first possession in overtime and then stopped the Hawks on their ensuing drive. Harrison was busy coaching his defense before River Hill's drive and during a timeout, but both times, defensive captains EJ Gilman and Erik Smith told their coach not to worry.

"It was fourth down and goal from the four-yard line," Harrison said of the timeout, "and I'm going through that routine that 'You've got to check down to this and be careful of that,' and they said, 'Coach, we told you we're winning this game.' At that point, I turned and walked off the field and the coaches were like, "What's going on?" and I said, 'They said they've got it.'"

And they did. Smith was the first one to tackle River Hill's Aaron Wells two yards short of the end zone. Antoine Barnes and Jordan Mynatt helped him bring Wells down to seal the Wildecats first trip to the state semifinals since 2008.

Mavs still feel like underdogs

Eastern Tech is the only defending state champion from the Baltimore area to make it to the state semifinals, but the Mavericks still feel like underdogs going into Friday's 7 p.m. Class 2A semifinal at Middletown. And they like it that way.

"If you look at the point totals and the league Middletown plays in and the level of competition they've played all year, you've got to think we're the underdog and that's OK with us," Eastern Tech coach Marc Mesaros said. "I don't think we're ranked in any poll, which is not a problem for me. Maybe that's the way it should be. … We have our work cut out for us."

The Mavericks (11-1) will look to a solid defense that has allowed no more than 21 points in a single game and has held six opponents to seven points or less to counter a Knights offense that scored 21 points in the first 12:10 en route to a 30-6 regional-final win over previously-unbeaten South Carroll. Defense kept the Mavericks in their state semifinal before they finally scored with 2:34 left to edge City, 7-6.

Small roster, big success

The one thing you notice about Havre de Grace when leafing through the state semifinal program is the size of its roster. The Warriors have just 28 players and, even for a small school, that's not many.

Compare that to the other Class 1A semifinalists. Brunswick, the Warriors' opponent at home Friday at 7 p.m., has 46 players, while Fort Hill has 39 and Dunbar has 49.

"It's ironman football," said Warriors coach Johnny Brooks, with a laugh. "We condition really well. We run a lot. The kids know they're normally going to go both ways. Some of them never come off the field — special teams, defense, the whole nine yards."

Six or seven of the Warriors always play both ways, and Brooks said he has been lucky to have few injuries. Only one kept a player out for long — a shoulder injury to split end Dayshawn Bolling, who missed four games but is back. Even quarterback Darin Washington, who has passed for more than 2,000 yards and 24 touchdowns, will see action on defense Friday, although Brooks would rather limit him to offense.

Getting back to the finals

Most of Dunbar's players know what it feels like to fall one game short of the state final after dropping last year's semifinal at Catoctin, 13-12. But some of the No. 12 Poets know what it's like to win a state title, too.

DeonTay McManus, Travon Garrett, LaVar Highsmith and Andre Cudanin played on the 2008 team that beat Fort Hill for the Poets' third straight state title and their sixth since 1994. Poets coach Lawrence Smith said those four don't want to fall short again in Saturday's Class 1A semifinal rematch with Fort Hill at Poly.

"It's a big motivation, especially for the seniors, the kids who were on the '08 team," Smith said. "They've been instrumental in talking to the guys about how it feels to get [to M&T Bank Stadium], so that's been a big deal. We've still got one more game [before the state final], but they're really focused in trying to get back."

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