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Wow! What a Game! But What's Next?

If the goalposts at Eastern could talk, they would still be buzzing about
H.D. Woodson’s 36-28 overtime victory
against Friendship Collegiate on Friday, perhaps the best game in the District since Ballou beat Dunbar, 34-33, in the 2006 Turkey Bowl.

People who like to pan athletics at D.C. schools can look at Friday’s game and highlight the abundance of penalties (Friendship was flagged 10 times in the second half alone, 13 overall, while Woodson was penalized 10 times) or the absence of any sort of kicking game, which probably could have ended the game in regulation had either team been able to kick an extra point. Each team, in fact, had a punt that went for negative yardage.

Any football fan, though, had to be entertained by all the playmakers on both sides. Throughout the second half and overtime, there was the feeling either team could score on any play – and it wasn’t for a lack of defense. Woodson junior linebacker Nate Robinson, the younger brother of Illinois wide receiver and former Dunbar All-Met Arrelious Benn, was all over the field, recovering a fumble and making three tackles in the backfield. Friendship, meantime, seemed to have Woodson quarterback Ricardo Young on the run all night. The Knights had six sacks, including two apiece by linebackers Tyrone Armstrong and Kennedy Ogbanna.

Friendship junior running back Malcolm Crockett is the real deal. After leading Montgomery County in rushing last season as a sophomore at Einstein, Crockett arrived at Friendship this fall and has shown incredible speed against much quicker defenders. Against Woodson, Crockett ran for 158 yards and two touchdowns, including a 60-yarder on the third play of the second half when he just blew past the Warriors’ secondary filled with Division I college recruits.

Young, meantime, showed something few high school quarterbacks possess – the ability to direct a two-minute drill. He did it twice against Friendship, at the end of each half. Trailing 12-0, Woodson took over at its 25 with 1 minute 43 seconds left in the second quarter and only one timeout. He scrambled three times to gain two first downs. Then, after a Friendship penalty, hit Don Hursey on a 34-yard bomb. Two plays later, Young eluded a sack, spun 360 degrees and floated a pass to Deandre Jones in the left corner of the end zone with no time left on the clock.

In the fourth quarter, after Friendship’s 18-play, 8 minute 26 second drive ended with a one-yard touchdown run by Crockett with 1:21 left to put the Knights up 28-22, Young took over at his own 34. He hit Alonzo Russell on a 10-yard pass. Then, after a Friendship penalty, Young found Renito Porter on a 31-yard pass to the Knights’ 10. His next pass fell incomplete before he and Russell connected again for seven yards. Then, on a two-step drop, Young threw a dart to Darius Redman over the middle for the tying score with two seconds left.

Friendship, meantime, showed perhaps the stiffest backbone of any team in the area. A lot of high school teams say they aren’t afraid to play anyone; the Knights say it and back it up -- scheduling Dunbar, DeMatha and Linganore, in addition to Woodson -- and don’t seek moral victories by just trying to hang close against these teams. Looking at how despondent the Knights were immediately after the game, they saw this game as their Turkey Bowl; after blowing out Dunbar, 37-9, in the season-opener, they saw this game as a chance to assert themselves as the best public school team – DCPS or charter school - in the District by having beaten the DCIAA’s top two programs.

“We really wanted this one,” Friendship Coach Aazaar Abdul-Rahim said. “I can’t say my guys didn’t try hard enough, but this one hurt.”

Nevertheless, Friendship proved itself to Woodson.

“Oh, they’d definitely be one of the best teams in the DCIAA, no question,” Warriors Coach Greg Fuller said afterwards.

And therein lies perhaps the biggest problem facing athletics in the District – what to do with the charter schools. We examined this issue two years ago prior to
the City Title basketball games
, and with enrollments rising at charter schools, and dropping at DCPS at a rate where they’ll be equal by 2014, the issue is only becoming more critical.

The arguments for including the charter schools in the DCIAA and excluding them are very simple. On one hand, they are public schools, funded by taxpayer money. Why shouldn’t they get a chance to compete against other public schools? On the other hand, however, by choosing to enroll in charter schools, those students elect not to go to a school overseen by DCPS management. The DCIAA falls under DCPS management.

From talking to coaches and players over the years at charter schools, it seems the charters want something more than what they have right now, but haven’t figured out what it is. Some want to be included in the DCIAA and have a chance to compete for the Turkey Bowl or a City Title. Others relish their pseudo-independent status where they can schedule more freely – like Friendship’s football team – and establish a stronger individual identity.

This split in direction, though, has stalled any progress toward a resolution, hampered further by the charter schools’ lack of organization and leadership. Too many charter-school teams operate on their own set of rules for determining eligibility, and, given the massive fraud that happened five years ago at the Marriott charter school, skeptics point to the ease with which charter-school athletics can be exploited, and wonder if the same is happening with other teams.

Ultimately, though, let’s hope the inability to square athletics at both DCPS and charter schools doesn’t inhibit games like last Friday’s from happening again. It was a great high school football game, and it showed District schools in a good light; given the sudden temporary change in security protocol at DCPS sites last Friday, and the emotional way the game ended, both teams and their fans all conducted themselves well.

By Alan Goldenbach  |  October 5, 2009; 10:18 AM ET
Categories:  Charter schools , DCIAA , Football , Friendship Collegiate , H.D. Woodson  
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Next: All-Met Watch Week 5

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