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Battle of champions as private-school power McDonogh faces two-time state champ Franklin

McDonogh's Eric Burrell, left, and Franklin's Steven Smothers will be going up against each other when the Eagles host the Indians on Friday, Sept. 4.
McDonogh's Eric Burrell, left, and Franklin's Steven Smothers will be going up against each other when the Eagles host the Indians on Friday, Sept. 4.

No. 4 Franklin (0-0) at No. 2 McDonogh (1-0)

When: Friday, 7 p.m.

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Coaches: Anthony Burgos, Franklin; Dom Damico, McDonogh

KEY PLAYERS TO WATCH

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Franklin: ATH Steven Smothers, Sr.; DB Kareem Felder, Sr.; RB Sam Botchway, Jr.; LB Michael Gibson, Jr.; WR-DB Murad Hussain, Sr.; QB Jimmy Lahay, Sr.; DT Derian Green, Sr., DE Aman Speed, Sr.

McDonogh: DB Eric Burrell, Sr; OL-DL Jordan McNair, Jr.; RB Mylique McGriff, Jr.; OL-DL PJ Mustipher, Soph.; QB Jansen Durham, Sr.; OL Gavin Clark, Sr.; OL Chase Kirol, Sr.; LB Ricardo Llanio, Sr.

KEYS TO VICTORY

In a rare showdown between a defending Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference champion and a defending state champion, the two schools a little more than 5 miles apart in northwestern Baltimore County meet in one of the most anticipated games of this season.

"We've been preparing a lot and we just can't wait to get on the field and play against them," Burgos said, "because all summer that's what everybody's been talking about and what everybody's getting ready for. There's a big buzz on social media."

The Indians, coming off two straight Class 3A state championships, are looking for their first win over an A Conference opponent after falling to Calvert Hall the past two seasons. McDonogh, which shared the A Conference title last season and won it outright in 2013, hasn't played a local public school in recent years, but aims to build off last week's 38-0 win at Bishop O'Connell.

Both teams graduated significant talent, but both bring back some of the area's top players and some of the area's most promising youngsters. Transfers also helped both teams fill some vacancies.

The Eagles have a huge line averaging 267 pounds and 6 feet 4 -- anchored by 6 -5, 290-pound McNair, and that should make it easier for McGriff, who ran for 1,275 yards last season to eat up yardage in a McDonogh offense that likes to grind it out on the ground. Four-year starting quarterback Durham also has solid options at receiver.

The Indians have a new quarterback in Lahay and a rebuilt offensive line that Burgos said has gotten the most attention in preseason. Their biggest asset is All-Metro athlete Smothers, who scored four touchdowns in last year's state final and is a threat to break a big play any time he has the ball. He makes highlight-reel catches and has the speed and slippery moves to go long distance on a return.

The Eagles, who have just three defensive starters back including All-Metro safety Burrell, will have to keep a lid on Smothers, which could be a challenge for a rebuilt linebacking corps and secondary although McDonogh handled some strong offensive threats at Bishop O'Connell. The Indians should be solid on defense with eight starters back and some key additions, including Felder, but their offensive line will have to protect pocket passer Lahay.

"They have really good skill players," Damico said, singling out Smothers and Damon Hazelton. "Those three and [Botchway], the running back are very dangerous. They try to get those kids in space. If we let them do that, they'll move the ball. Our plan is not to allow them to get the ball in space, to pressure the quarterback and keep him from throwing the ball."

OTHER GAMES TO WATCH

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No. 1 Gilman at Good Counsel, Friday, 7 p.m.

No. 15 Glenelg at Oakland Mills, Friday, 7 p.m.

John Carroll at No. 8 Calvert Hall, 7:30 p.m.

Bullis at No. 10 Mount St. Joseph, Saturday, 1 p.m.

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