By Matt Popchock
6:30 PM – Greetings from Chocolate Town, U.S.A.! Mr. High School Sports is sitting in the second deck of press row at Hersheypark Stadium for the 54th annual Big 33 Football Classic. The best 33 (technically, 34) seniors from Pennsylvania and Ohio will go head to head in what will be the first of many Saturday games for these soon-to-be college freshmen. You’ll probably never find a more carnival-like atmosphere for an exhibition high school game; I saw tailgating, in addition to merchandising galore, and a very festive crowd gathering outside the stadium within the past hour. And why not? It is, after all, the Super Bowl of high school all-star games; every Super Bowl has featured at least one Big 33 participant. Furthermore, seven Big 33 alumni were taken in the 2011 NFL Draft, so that should give a pretty strong indication of why this game is such a spectacle, and such a great showcase of outstanding high school talent. Ever since Pennsylvania and Ohio started playing each other in this game on a permanent basis, each state has won nine Big 33 games. However, Ohio has won two in a row and five of the last eight, including an 18-15 win last summer.
6:35 PM – Player introductions for both teams are taking place. Of local interest, Pitt and Penn State each have two players in this year’s game. Running back Lafayette Pitts (Woodland Hills) and linebacker Devin Cook (Beaver Falls) are going to Pitt this fall, while defensive lineman Jordan Kerner (Fairview) and athlete Shawn Oakman (Pennwood) are on the Pennsylvania team and will be going to PSU. Dana Holgorsen also has two players of interest in this game; defensive back Terrell Chestnut (Pottsgrove) and offensive lineman Brandon Jackson from Lakewood St. Edwards (Ohio) will be playing ball at WVU this fall.
By the way, my alma mater also has two recruits here: PA tailback Jameel Poteat (Bishop McDevitt), who originally showed interest in Pitt, and Ohio tailback Akise Teague (Ursuline) willl play for the University of Cincinnati. The PA team is coached by Tim Rimpfel (Cumberland Valley), who has won 288 career games, assisted by Ellwood City coach Don Phillips, who led the Wolverines to their first playoff berth since 2000 last season. Ohio’s team is coached by Matt Dennison (New Philadelphia), who has won multiple Coach-of-the-Year awards in that state.
7:00 PM – Ty Law, the Aliquippa and New England Patriots star, is in the house–and so is a helicopter for a flyby–as the coin is tossed. Ohio wins and will defer. Pennsylvania moving left to right on your computer screen.
(By the way, we apologize in advance for the tardiness of any future updates; trying to do the best we can with less-than-fast stadium wi-fi…)
AUTHOR’S NOTE: For those of you who follow Mr. High School Sports on Twitter, you know that, due to technical problems at the stadium beyond our control, we were unable to come to you live as originally planned. But in case you missed it–and if you’re a Pennsylvania supporter, it’s probably best you did–here’s what happened:
7:10 PM – Jameel Poteat returns the opening kickoff to PA’s own 34 yard line. But Matt Johnson rolls to his left, and makes a very ill-advised throw at the last second that is picked off by Chase Farris just in bounds. Fortunately, PA’s defense stiffens, and J.D. Detmer is wide left on his 46-yard FG try. Scoreless game, 10:56 left, 1st quarter. Farris will play at OSU, while Johnson will play at Bowling Green this fall.
7:20 PM – PA’s offense can’t do anything, and Ohio starts just inside PA territory. A 33-yard bomb from Connor Cook (Michigan State) to Devin Smith (Ohio State) puts Ohio in business at the PA 13 yard line. But the drive stalls again, as LaSalle’s Jamal Abdur-Rahman, who I’m told was talking smack all week (even amongst teammates, about which part of PA has the best players), supplies great coverage. Another field goal is shanked, this time from just 28 yards out, and we remain scoreless, 7:32 left, 1st quarter.
7:25 PM – A nice punt return by Tyler Williams, from Ohio powerhouse Colerain, puts Ohio at the PA 48. Akise Teague, the aforementioned UC recruit, starts putting on a show, as the dances around the open field, cuts outside, then shakes a last-ditch ankle tackle up the near sideline on a 52-yard touchdown run. The odd thing is, PA didn’t line up any safeties. Detmer’s extra point is good, 7-0 Ohio, 4:30 left, 1st quarter.
7:30 PM – Nice upfield tackle on special teams by Clairton’s Desimon Green, who will play on the defensive line at Texas Tech (originally committed to Pitt). Timeout PA, they have two left with 3:03 left, 1st quarter.
7:40 PM – An absolutely amazing touchdown run by Akise Teague, his second of the game, from 20 yards out. He is slippery, and he has some really nice open-field moves. Big play that set it up was a 45-yard completion from Cardale Jones (OSU) to Tyler Williams to the PA 25 yard line. With Detmer’s kick, Ohio takes a 14-0 lead with 49 seconds left in the quarter.
End of the 1st quarter…Ohio leads 14-0. Matt Johnson turtled up and was sacked on the last play, which seems fitting; PA has zero net yards of offense.
7:45 PM – Another long sack against Johnson…Ohio has started four of its first five possessions in PA territory, though PA’s defense is playing with some intensity up front.
7:50 PM – PA forces a turnover on downs that probably shouldn’t have been. Tyler Williams was wide open in the left flat, but the ball glanced off his outstretched fingertips. Anyway, maybe this is the break the Pennsylvanians need? Still 14-0, 8:36 left, 2nd quarter. Sean Barowski’s (Rutgers) five-yard run seems like the best play PA has had all night…
7:55 PM – Inside linebacker Ejuan Price just made a tackle for PA. Price is one of four Woodland Hills representatives, which is an uncommonly high number. Kudos to George Novak for building a five-star program from the bottom up. The other Wolverine representatives are OL Julian Turner, DL Quinton Jefferson, and RB Lafayette Pitts.
Timeout Ohio…each team has two left now…Ohio still leads 14-0, 6:18 left, 2nd quarter.
7:58 PM – Brandon Clemons (Michigan State) wraps up the QB, and the ball pops right into the waiting arms of Dez Green. Okay, maybe now PA gets the break it needs…they definitely can’t afford to waste this one. Let’s see if the offense finally gets it together…ball on Ohio 24 yard line…
8:02 PM – PA hears a very small but noticeable Bronx cheer as they finally collect their first first down at 6:06 left of the 2nd quarter…on a facemask penalty. Barowski then takes a couple defenders for a ride on a short gain, then bursts into the end zone from five yards out. Thomas Jefferson kicker Mike Wainauskas is good on the extra point…PA has cut Ohio’s lead to 14-7 with 5:35 left, 2nd quarter.
8:05 PM – Unfortunately for PA, the Ohioans answer right back. Cardale Jones goes deep to Devon Smith, who was at least two steps ahead of his man, and Smith jogs in for a 54-yard score. Teague once again set up the drive with a big gain, this time a 20-yard run. Detmer’s kick is good, and the lead is back up to 14…21-7 Ohio, 4:49 left, 2nd quarter.
8:10 PM – Jalen Fitzpatrick (Temple) is the new QB for PA, and he gets this team going with a well-improvised catch-and-run to Tyler Kroft (Rutgers), a 44-yard play to the Ohio 32 yard line. Quinton Sullivan () follows it up by catching a 12-yard bullet for a first down. As poorly as PA has played to this point, you still get the sense they’re still very much in this game…
8:13 PM – Wow…talk about speaking too soon…an end to end pick-six. 102 yards. Doran Grant, who played at St. Vincent-St. Mary (LeBron James’ high school) and was recruited by OSU, made probably the easiest INT he’ll ever collect. Terrible throw. He then hit the open pasture, then, once he got past midfield, followed a cavalcade of blockers up the far sideline and snuck inside the end zone. Extra point by Detmer good…28-7 Ohio, 1:40 left. It pains me to say this, but that’s probably a crusher.
8:25 PM – Armstead Williams (Purdue) of Gateway and Quinton Sullivan both make catches in the open field, but after PA uses its second timeout with 11 seconds left, they end the half on back-to-back incompletions, eschewing a long field goal attempt. 28-7 Ohio at the half.
Some key first half numbers:
PA quarterbacks went 4-of-14 for 98 yards and two picks
Barowski: 4 rush, 25 yds, TD
Johnson was sacked three times
Ohio quarterbacks were 5-of-13 for 128 yards, one TD, one INT
Teague: 6 rush, 73 yds, 2 TD
8:45 PM – Pennsylvania takes the second half kickoff out to its own 28 yard line. Meanwhile, I realize Ohio has some really tough linebackers (and it shows)…but PA’s offensive line is absolutely getting destroyed.
8:50 PM – An elusive punt return by Tyler Williams that puts Ohio, once again, inside PA territory to start a series is followed by a halfback option from Williams to Justin Olack (Toledo), then some great makeshift scrambling by Cardale Jones. Ohio ball at the PA 40.
8:53 PM – Teague finds himself wide open for a 40-yard TD strike from Jones, Teague’s third touchdown of the night. Once again, PA played no safeties…I just don’t get it. The extra point makes it 35-7 Ohio, 8:23 left, 3rd quarter.
9:05 PM – PA turns the ball over on downs deep inside Ohio territory, as Fitzpatrick just can’t find the end zone of several successive attempts. Having said that, PA is being helped out by these officials, even though Ohio does need to do a better job keeping its cool considering what the score is. Boy, this thing could be, and maybe should be, a lot worse…
9:10 PM – Ejuan Price, who just announced his de-commitment from OSU, puts aforementioned WVU recruit Brandon Jackson out of commission with a good, clean hit. Jackson shaken up, but helped up by trainers and walks off on his own steam. Timeout Ohio…they have two left.
9:15 PM – A sack by PA, their first of the night, goes to DL Jordan Kerner (Penn State) of Fairview. Another first is on the way: punt formation for Ohio.
End of the 3rd quarter…Ohio 35, PA 7. Playing for pride at this point. Within the first half-minute of the 4th quarter, PA calls timeout…each team now with two to spare.
9:30 PM – Another turnover on downs by PA, as Fitzpatrick slips and falls near the 40 yard line of Ohio on 4th and long. Story of the night. A disappointing showing through and through by the Pennsylvania squad to this point…and that’s probably a charitable assessment. Ohio’s team is much more cohesive and playing with greater purpose, or so it seems. Coach Dennison and his staff have done a textbook job.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: Let’s just say Pennsylvania’s team isn’t the only one that needs to pick up their game. We’ve had a couple mystery calls in a row here–calls that either were explained extremely late, or weren’t given an audible explanation at all by this crew. On top of that, the booth played music–Penguin fan favorite “Cotton Eye Joe,” to be precise–right in the middle of a play, a play that resulted in an incomplete pass by Fitzpatrick. I’m officially at a loss now…
9:32 PM – Cook to Smith for a 28-yard TD that was as all-too-easy as the one to Teague, though Smith had to beat man coverage on this one. The extra point snap is botched, but Ohio runs it in on the near side anyway, which seems to be a perfect microcosm of PA’s night. 43-7 Ohio, 10:45 left, 4th quarter.
By the way, there will be no mercy rule, which was done away with a couple years ago…another thing I’d change about this event, in my humble opinion.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: Brandon Holloman, a tailback and one of the top players in the PIAA last season, didn’t get into the game until this quarter…on defense. Again, barring some disciplinary issue I’m not aware of, I’m really puzzled by a couple of the decisions being made on the Pennsylvania side.
9:40 PM – DaQuan Cooper (Temple), a defensive back from George Washington High School, recovers a bad Ohio snap for Pennsylvania at Ohio’s 43 yard line. 7:32 left, 4th quarter.
9:45 PM – Matt Johnson is back under center for Pennsylvania, and he fires a 23-yard strike to Sullivan. He then hits Sullivan down the right side, and he does a nice job hooking the ball just inside the pilon for a PA touchdown from 22 yards out. Wainauskas is good with the extra point…43-14 Ohio, 6:30 left in the game. Ohio recovers the subsequent onside kick.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: Boy, am I glad to be a UC football fan (no disrespect to my blue-and-gold brethren, of course)…Teague is putting on a clinic out there…
9:50 PM – Keith Heitzman (Michigan) plunges in from a yard out. Extra point good. 50-14 Ohio, 1:40 left in the game.
10:00 PM – …and…it’s a final. Ohio 50, PA 14. Ohio has now won three Big 33 games in a row, and six of the past nine. The 50 points were the second-most in the history of the game (PA beat Ohio 61-42 in a record-setting 2006 game).
Akise Teague, whom I voted for for Ohio MVP, and Sean Barowski, whom I voted for for PA MVP, did indeed win those respective awards.
Some final numbers:
Cardale Jones: 4-of-6, 160 yds, 2 TD
Teague: 8 rush, 102 yds, 2 TD; 2 rec., 66 yds, TD
Smith: 3 rec., 103 yds, 2 TD
Adbur-Rahman: 5 tackles (team high)
Dez Green & Julius Page: 7 combined tackles
Antonio Poole (Michigan): game-high 6 tackles
Matt Johnson: 8-of-19, 159 yds, TD, INT
Jalen Fitzpatrick: 4-of-15, 92 yds, INT
Barowski: 4 rush, 25 yds, TD
Sullivan: 6 rec., 118 yds, TD
More analysis to come later at 937thefan.com!