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Maryland all-stars savor chance to compete again in 20-0 loss to Pennsylvania in Big 33 Football Classic

HARRISBURG, PA. — Pennsylvania didn’t even need to use its own successful drives to shut down Maryland in the Big 33 Football Classic on Monday.

All the hometown squad needed was to be there and be ready when a Maryland player mishandled the ball.

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For the second year in a row, Maryland bowed before its regional rival in the interstate all-star game on Memorial Day, 20-0 – nearly the same score as the previous game.

Pennsylvania scored three times on Maryland fumbles, either directly on the recovery or on the drive that followed it. Maryland committed five turnovers, while Pennsylvania had none.

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Pennsylvania blanked Maryland, 21-0, in the last meeting in 2019 before the pandemic’s arrival forced the cancellation of the 2020 game.

Pennsylvania’s pretty accustomed to building win streaks against its opponent to the south. Before Maryland broke the streak in 2018 with a three-point victory, it lost five of its past six matchups.

For the Maryland players and head coach, however, the loss paled in comparison to getting the chance to play football again.

Mount Saint Joseph’s Billy Atkins, who started under center for Maryland on Monday, played just one game this past fall — a victory over St. Vincent Pallotti — before his team’s season ended.

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Getting the chance to play again pushed him harder.

“Having one game and those guys [Pennsylvania] having a full season, you could see the difference us versus them,” Atkins said. “This game was good for me, starting [college] in the next two weeks.”

Maryland's Wayne Matthews III (15) and Kaden Jernigan (4) try to tackle Pennsylvania's Malik Cooper during the annual Big 33 Football Classic on Monday in Harrisburg, Pa. (Courtesy of Paul Burdick)
Maryland's Wayne Matthews III (15) and Kaden Jernigan (4) try to tackle Pennsylvania's Malik Cooper during the annual Big 33 Football Classic on Monday in Harrisburg, Pa. (Courtesy of Paul Burdick) (Paul Burdick Sports Images)

That inequity hummed during every play, with Pennsylvania looking sharp and Maryland rusty. The two sides’ practices were held a little differently, with Maryland coming together on Sunday nights, sometimes with players missing.

The hometown kids played a lot more recently, too. Pennsylvania held high school football in the fall and had state championships.

Most of the players wearing Maryland gold maybe had one game. Some had none at all. The representatives from Montgomery County, Baltimore City and Prince George’s County hadn’t played since 2019, as those jurisdictions nixed fall sports entirely.

“Timing is going to be a little off. It’s kind of like you see a first game of the year, and those are always a little shaky with penalties and mistakes,” Maryland coach Mike Neubeiser said. “We definitely had a lot of mistakes.”

The Pennsylvania Scholastic Football Coaches Association named Calvert Hall defensive back Tre Jordan III the Most Valuable Player for Maryland after he made several vital stops and blocked a punt. He relished the chance to compete with and spend time with players he considers friends.

The Cardinals played one game, a loss to Archbishop Spalding, before coronavirus-related cancellations halted their season.

“It’s the last high school game, so just to come out and ball out with everybody feels like a blessing,” Jordan said.

Anne Arundel County had one lone representative in Calvin Harrison of Meade, and it very nearly had none at all.

Harrison toyed with the idea of opting out, not wanting to risk an injury so soon before his time to report to Stony Brook.

“I was like, why not? Represent for Maryland,” Harrison said. “It felt good. Last high school game, wish we could’ve came out for the win, but it’s still fun.”

Neubeiser led Northwest to two Maryland state championships before stepping down in December. The pandemic showed him the importance of spending more time with family, he told The Washington Post.

This, too, was a return to his old love.

“It was a special experience,” Neubeiser said. “It’s a great group of kids, very fun to work with, and the coaching staff was hand-picked — all lifelong friends of mine. That was probably the most important part and the best part of the whole thing.”

Atkins struggled on his first two drives, but it was nothing like what happened to him on the third drive, late in the first quarter.

As he dropped back to pass, the ball slipped out of his grasp. The quarterback from Baltimore went to recover it, but it was too late.

Pennsylvania defensive end Bralen Henderson, an Ohio State commit, stampeded into him, scooped up the ball and rolled into the end zone.

Down 7-0, Atkins (4-for-14 for 32 yards) and Maryland tried a few runs, handing the ball off to John Carroll’s Roman Hemby with moderate success. Even Atkins got his jets going to carry the ball 30 yards.

But when communication broke down between Atkins and his running back, and the ball scooted free, the Pennsylvania defense was ready. Several players feasted on the slip-up, helping recover the fumble.

“We definitely had plays where if we would’ve practiced more it would’ve been more fluid,” Atkins said. “It was rough.”

Just a few plays later, Pennsylvania quarterback Evan Clark — a future Penn State player — powered up his arm and rocketed a 64-yard pass to Judah Tomb, who hauled in the bomb to make it 13-0. Clark far eclipsed the passing totals of his opponents on Monday, finishing 8-for-12 with 110 yards.

The Maryland defense had its moments. Dundalk product Greg Hollis and Walkersville’s Naseem Pacheco pulled down the Pennsylvania quarterbacks a few times — usually together — and Harrison collected a few stops of his own.

“It was the big guys and the middle and up front and the safety, [Jordan],” Harrison said. “They stopped everything. They made it easy for the DBs.”

The gold-clad visitors’ solid defense was a consolation to its silent offense. Because of how well the defense stuffed Pennsylvania’s rushing game up front — leaving Division I-bound athletes with meager rushing yard totals — Maryland was never so far behind that it couldn’t reverse the deficit.

But going into halftime without a score against its northern rivals, Maryland desperately needed a different strategy.

It deployed Quince Orchard’s Brian Plummer (2-for-7 with 45 yards) under center, who, at first, did anything but rely on his arm.

Predominantly on the ground, the 6-foot-4 Buffalo commit maneuvered Maryland within four yards of the red zone, holding the ball with DeMatha’s Sieh Bangura (nine carries for 36 yards) as they crossed the 24-yard line together.

But, just like before, that potential success fizzled as soon as the ball got punched loose.

Pennsylvania athlete Preston Zandier swiped it and danced in the other direction, proudly showing off his treasure to the sideline as Maryland’s chance at success, once again, withered in Pennsylvanian hands.

And what else could Pennsylvania do, but swallow up almost all of the rest of the clock and march down the field until Temple-bound Malik Cooper caught the third touchdown of the afternoon to make it 20-0.

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