McDonogh quarterback Jansem Durham and Franklin receiver Steven Smothers are among the players who will return for next season's game.
McDonogh quarterback Jansem Durham and Franklin receiver Steven Smothers are among the players who will return for next season's game.

When Franklin football coach Anthony Burgos scheduled the Indians' 2015 season opener he didn't have far to look for the perfect opponent, McDonogh.

The Indians will kick off the season Sept. 4 at 7 p.m. at McDonogh in a clash of last year's No. 1 and No. 2 teams.

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The No. 1 Eagles are the two-time defending MIAA A Conference champions, winning outright in 2013 and sharing with Gilman last fall, and finished the past two seasons at the top of The Baltimore Sun's Top 15 poll. The Indians finished No. 2 last season after winning their second straight Class 3A state championship. The two will play again in 2016 at Franklin.

"I think it's a great game," Burgos said. "Because of the close connection of McDonogh and us, I think it will be a tremendous turnout. Obviously people will want to see what we're both doing and what type of year we're going to have."

With the schools only about five miles apart -- Franklin in Reisterstown and McDonogh in Owings Mills -- it's a natural rivalry that has been stoked on social media and message boards, but never on the field.

"There's going to be a lot of excitement in the high school community to see that game," said Archbishop Curley coach Sean Murphy, who is coaching Maryland's Big 33 team this summer. "It's always a big thing when you get privates and publics together, especially when you have No. 1 and No. 2 from last year.

"That game's going to draw a lot of interest. Because of the location, a lot of kids know one another and who knows, it could spark a rivalry between the two. The teams haven't played each other, so whenever you get a chance to match up two teams with great coaches that have been successful, it's always good. It's good for high school football. It's good for the state. It's good for the community. It's good for Baltimore County."

The Indians know all about playing A Conference teams. The past two seasons, they opened with losses to Calvert Hall but that didn't stop them from going on to win the state title. Last fall, the loss at Cavlert Hall was their only loss of the season.

Burgos hasn't shied away from competition. His teams have lost four of their last five season openers but have won three state titles in those five years. He also wants to give his players the chance to play top competition before the end of the season.

"We did the thing with Calvert Hall and my thing is always challenging us," Burgos said. "It's very important for me, as a public school, to have as many of those kids stay home and not go to those private schools, so it's always important for me to try to find the biggest schools to play, so I called them."

McDonogh coach Dom Damico beefed up the Eagles' early schedule last season, adding a couple of nationally-prominent opponents. They fell to St. Joseph Regional (N.J.) 31-18, and defeated Elder (Ohio), 28-14, before going on to share the A Conference title. Their only loss to a local team came against St. Frances.

The Eagles have not played a Maryland public school since Damico's first season, 1994, when they lost at Potomac, 25-14. Led by quarterback Bobby Sabelhaus, the Eagles rallied from 19 points down, but an interception on Jason Taylor's option pass stalled the comeback, leading to McDonogh's first loss in 15 games.

Damico was happy to add a good public school team to his team's schedule.

"The coach called me and said he was looking for games and we were fortunate that they were open on that weekend too," Damico said. "We thought it was a great idea. I think there'll be not only a lot of local interest, but I think there's some state interest when you have the top team in the MIAA playing one of the top teams in the public schools."

Damico said he's not sure he'll be able to schedule a game for the Eagles on Aug. 28, so the Franklin game might be McDonogh's season opener, too.

Both teams will go into the game after considerable turnover.

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McDonogh loses much of its defense, including linebackers with Wyatt Cook and Connor Young, while the Indians lose four offensive linemen, including Patrick Allen, as well as quarterback Jacquez Adams and his twin brother Jordan Adams, a wide receiver and cornerback.

McDonogh returns a strong quarterback in Jansen Durham and a key 2014 breakout player in running back Mylique McGriff as well as safety Eric Burrell, who will take on more responsiiblity as a wide receiver. They also have two key young linemen in P.J. Mustipher and Jordan McNair, both named to MaxPreps underclassman All-America teams.

The Indians bring back the state's most electric player in wide receiver Steven Smothers, who also excels as a cornerback and return man. Jimmy Lahay, a true pocket passer, will take over for Jacquez Adams. Safety Mike Gibson will see more time at wide receiver and linebacker Sam Botchway will play running back.

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