Football heats up play, cooling criticism


Oct. 11, 2001, midnight | By Liam Bowen | 19 years, 3 months ago


They say that history moves in circles. The stock market bobs up and down at fairly regular intervals. Flared pants came back with a vengeance a few years ago. And even Blair football, after 35 dormant years, has clawed its way back to respectability.

With a pair of victories to open the season, the Blazers surprised football fans all over the county. Even more amazing, this year's edition may not be football's answer to Vanilla Ice, starting out hot only to fade sadly away. For the first time under head coach James Short, the Blazers have a legitimate chance at a winning record.

"This first couple wins have given us a special opportunity. We feel like we can be the team that starts bringing back Blair football," says junior tight end and defensive end Max Pollock.

Starting out hot

A few downs into the season's first game on Sept 7, those assembled at Blazer Stadium got quite a shock. This year, the home team didn't stink. The offensive line was no longer a mere checkpoint for enemy pass rushers. Ball carriers now hung onto the ball when tackled. The defense even started to force the opposing punter onto the field with regularity. A program that had been in extended hibernation was showing signs of life.

Final score: Blair 34, Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School (B-CC) 12. When time expired, the celebration began. The new marching band (see story page 25) played a vigorous tune. And, for the first time in too long, Montgomery Blair was a football school.

While B-CC's defense is in no danger of being confused with the Baltimore Ravens', this was a remarkable game for the Blazer offense. The 34 points in the opening game were two more points than Blair's entire total in 1999.

After the team's game against typically strong Northwest High School was postponed due to the events of Sept 11, the Blazers traveled across town to face the Albert Einstein High School Titans. Montgomery Marty, the Montgomery Journal's long-time high school football prognosticator, took a chance and picked Blair to win, saying, "Marty rolls the dice." Well, Marty must have rolled lucky sevens because Blair squeaked by the Titans 9-7. The Blazers scored all of their points in the final four minutes and won the game with a dramatic safety.

This second win sparked the imaginations of many optimistic Blazers. The first win had been a pleasant surprise and a lot of fun, but a second victory was surefire proof that this was a team of destiny. The Blair football faithful had thoughts of a season like Einstein's magical 9-1 1998 campaign after years of Blazer-like futility.

Those thoughts were quickly dashed when perennial juggernaut Seneca Valley High School came to town Sept 29. The Screamin' Eagles entered the game ranked fifth in the state and spent the evening proving why. Seneca Valley's defense stuffed the run and running back Eric Yancey turned in a 54-yard, four-touch down performance as the visitors cruised to a 42-8 win.

To their credit, however, the Blazers did not quit. Down 42-0 in the fourth quarter, back-up quarterback Ariel Peisert, a junior, directed the offense 75 yards, eventually scoring on an 18-yard quarterback draw. That late drive showed Coach Short the resiliency he says he is looking for. "The teams we've had before would have said, ‘The heck with it,' but this year's group was embarrassed by the way they played and wanted to finish strong. That shows character," says Short.

Good teams often follow their worst games with some of their best efforts. If the game against Blake High School is any indication, then Blair is a good team. Playing without the team's leader, standout senior quarterback James McCrae (see story page 27), the Blazers rallied to their second fourth-quarter comeback this season. Down 14-6 with three and a half minutes to play, junior Cedric Mack took a Blake kick off 87 yards for a crucial touchdown. Angus punched over the two-point conversion to tie the game and force overtime.

Angus came up big in the overtime as well, carrying the ball to the two-yard line on the extra period's first snap. This run set up a touchdown dive from Ruiz and gave Blair a miraculous third victory.

Why now?

A look to the numbers goes a long way to explaining Blair's success. Not digits like the number of first downs or yards per carry, but the sheer mass of red-clad Blazers on the sidelines every Friday night.
This year's varsity team carries 40 players. Some seasons during Short's seven-year tenure, the Blair roster would have half that many bodies. Apart from adding depth to the squad, the extra players give the Blazers an advantage during practice. "This year's team is better prepared. A big reason for that is that having so many players gives us an opportunity to run the other team's plays in practice," says Short.

A new offensive philosophy has also helped the Blazers. During the two previous seasons, the team would often rely too heavily on the strong arm of quarterback Francis Calliste. It was ordinary for Calliste to attempt over 30 passes in a single game. While this number would not be high in the NFL, completion percentages are typically lower in high school play. Blair's pass-happy offense produced little more than incompletions and three-and-outs.

Since Calliste's graduation, however, Short and his coaching staff have emphasized the ground game. The results have been impressive. The hulking offensive line, anchored by senior All-County candidate Junior Jabbie, has controlled the line of scrimmage and opened holes for a talented backfield. "The offensive line has improved a lot, and we have gotten consistency at running back, so we are running the ball effectively," says Short.

With three wins already, the Blazers are aiming to go where few Blair teams have gone before: above .500. According to coach Short, the team is on the right track. "Everybody's number one goal is a winning record. So far, we have done a good job taking steps to achieve it," he says.



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Liam Bowen. Liam Bowen has loved sports, baseball in particular, since he saw Jeff Ballard pitch for the Orioles in the late-80s. When he isn't on the beat, Bowen ties up his daytimes with his misguided and entirely unrealistic dream to play some sort of advanced baseball … More »

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