HARRISBURG, PA. — When preparing for the Big 33 Football Classic, Maryland's side often has trouble fielding a roster competitive enough to contend with Pennsylvania's.
Because Power Five schools usually require incoming freshmen to move to campus at the beginning of June, out-of-state commits in the two states tend to decline invitations to the high school all-star game.
That's the problem Maryland, which has won the Big 33 game once in the past five years since rejoining the match, faced this season.
The Maryland players who participated in Saturday night's clash at Landis Field tried to counter Pennsylvania's power throughout the first half, but explosive plays after halftime doomed their pursuit.
Maryland lost, 44-33, to ensure Pennsylvania won its 10th of 13 meetings between the two states.
"We had  guys who were supposed to play in this game but didn't because they had to report to their colleges," Archbishop Spalding quarterback Evan Fochtman (Navy) said. "I don't know if you could talk to the colleges or get something changed, because that would be awesome if they could do that so more guys could play in the game."
While those players among Maryland's initial roster selections weren't available, Fochtman led a charge out of halftime that gave Maryland its lone lead of the night and convinced the players they could handle Pennsylvania's test.
Maryland emerged from the break, fielding the first kickoff and retaking the field down 17-14, the players didn't appear deterred by the potential talent imbalance.
Instead, Fochtman led a scoring drive that featured timely running plays, including a burst from St. Frances running back Gary Brightwell (Arizona), and a defensive penalty from Pennsylvania.
Walkersville halfback Chad Gleason (Frostburg) said the team focused at halftime on limiting the penalties that allowed Pennsylvania to run 14 more offensive plays than Maryland in the first half, and planned to work on a balanced offensive approach.
Fochtman capped those efforts with a 7-yard rushing touchdown less than three minutes into the third quarter for a 21-17 advantage.
"When we came back, I thought we had a chance because I thought we might be wearing them down," said Arundel coach Chuck Markiewicz, who led Maryland this week. "All that, trying to extend that energy to come back and we probably lost some of ours, too."
But Markiewicz said his team, which had less than a week of practice together, only featured about four or five plays on offense, so he anticipated Pennsylvania would solve the unit's tactics and make a comeback attempt.
That happened when Maryland went scoreless from that early third-quarter touchdown to late in the fourth quarter, while Pennsylvania turned to its explosive passing attack to secure a third straight Big 33 win.
In the final six minutes of the third quarter, Pennsylvania had two touchdowns before adding scoring strikes of 51 yards and 72 yards in the fourth quarter. The production exhausted Maryland's defense.
The unit rotated with only five linemen after St. Frances defensive lineman B'Ahmad Miller (University of Maryland), one of the few Power Five options Team Maryland touted, left the game with an injury early in the first quarter.
Plus, Milford Mill defensive lineman J'Quane Harris (Charleston), who was voted Maryland's Most Valuable Player, said the players weren't in game shape during the offseason and the quarters went longer than they expected during a game that lasted more than three hours.
"I think that's what it is," Harris said. "Not playing football for this long and trying to get used to it."
Maryland's offense worked to come back from that deficit, which Pennsylvania stretched to as many as 17 points.
Fochtman completed seven of his 15 passes for 143 yards and three touchdowns, while quarterback Jabari Laws (Army West Point), who led Wise to the Class 4A state championship in the fall, went 6-for-11 for 84 yards.
While they couldn't respond to Pennsylvania's surge, the Maryland players appreciated their week of team bonding through practices, staying with host families and doing activities with special needs children.
Though Fochtman lamented Maryland's participation obstacles, he said the experience was a "really great" way to transition to his responsibilities at Navy in two weeks.
"It's not the way I wanted to go out with a loss, but I feel like my high school career ended in a good way," Fochtman said. "I feel everything's falling into place."
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