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Thompson scores, Pennsylvania winner of Big 33 football game

By David Barr davidbarr@pressandjournal.com
Posted 6/21/17

Jaelen Thompson scored a touchdown in Pennsylvania’s victory over Maryland in Saturday’s Big 33 game, but he struggled to find running room outside of that 4-yard run.

Thompson was the …

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Thompson scores, Pennsylvania winner of Big 33 football game


Jaelen Thompson scored a touchdown in Pennsylvania’s victory over Maryland in Saturday’s Big 33 game, but he struggled to find running room outside of that 4-yard run.

Thompson was the first Middletown Area High School student since Dennis Moore, Class of 1986, to play in the game, which pits prep stars from Pennsylvania vs. their Maryland counterparts. Pennsylvania won, 44-34.

Two MAHS cheerleaders, Abby Yohn and Cameron Johnson, also were on the sidelines at Saturday’s game at Central Dauphin High School’s Landis Field. But in a way they were cheering against Thompson because they represented the Maryland squad. That state doesn’t send cheerleaders to the game.

“It’s weird not being able to cheer for someone you went to school with,” Yohn said.

Thompson finished the game with 9 rushes for 4 yards, according to official Big 33 statistics. That means other than his 4-yard TD, he totaled 0 yards.

For MAHS in 2016, Thompson rushed for 1,605 yards and 19 touchdowns, set Middletown’s all-time career rushing yards with 3,940, and was a finalist for the Mr. PA Football. The 5-foot-10-inch, 190-pounder played defensive back as well as running back for the Blue Raiders.

He will attend Towson University in Maryland, where he plans to play running back.

“To be able to play in this game and represent Middletown is awesome and a great opportunity,” Thompson told the Press & Journal last week after a practice session.

Many high school players who took part in past Big 33 games have gone on to professional careers in the NFL, including Herb Adderly, Joe Namath, Tony Dorsett, Joe Montana, Jim Kelly (who took part in festivities Saturday), Dan Marino, Ricky Watters and Ben Roethlisberger.

Thompson said he didn’t grow up watching the Big 33 game, but he had heard about it throughout his high school career. It wasn’t until this season that he thought maybe he could make the roster, so that was one of the goals he set for himself this season.

Thompson said there was one thing that he was looking forward to most and that was “having fun and coming home with the win for Pennsylvania and representing Middletown.”

Practice was conducted last week under muggy and humid conditions, particularly early in the week, but for Thompson, he dealt with the heat by convincing himself it wasn’t as hot as it actually was.

Perhaps the only thing hotter than the temperature was the level of competition on the practice field, because Thompson played with about 30 or so of the best Pennsylvania high school players and some of the best coaches in the state. That meant a chance to learn and observe from among the best.

“It’s great to compete with guys at my level,” Thompson said, adding that practicing with them will prepare him for competition in college. Given how good the other players are, Thompson said that he had to work on the “little things” in practice and take the extra step to stand out to the coaches throughout the week.

Thompson wasn’t selected as a starter for the game.

As for the best player on the Pennsylvania team, Thompson singled out Audley Isaacs, a linebacker from the Valley Forge Military Academy who will play for Temple University in the fall. Isaacs is very athletic and physical for a linebacker his size, Thompson said. The Big 33 roster has Isaacs listed at 6-foot-1, 215 pounds.

Yohn and Johnson auditioned for a cheerleader roster spot in December and the results were announced in January. Around 200 auditioned and fewer than 70 were selected for the game. Practices began June 12, with the girls learning their cheers and routines for the halftime performance. Both Johnson and Yohn served as base members, meaning they are one of the girls on the ground, holding one of their teammates up in the air, before catching them.

Despite cheering for the Maryland team, both Johnson and Yohn were looking forward to the entire experience, particularly the halftime performance.

Lower Dauphin cheerleaders Delaney Garcia, Kayla Gilbride and Kimberly Rodemaker also took part, representing the Pennsylvania squad.

Shawn Thompson, a standout for Archbishop Wood near Philadelphia, led Pennsylvania in rushing, with 19 carries for 80 yards and a touchdown. Pennsylvania did most of its damage through the air, throwing for 392 yards and four touchdowns.

The score was tied at 7 after one quarter, and Pennsylvania edged ahead 17-14 at halftime before going up 30-21 late in the third on Jaelen Thompson’s touchdown.

Two touchdown passes in the fourth put Maryland down 44-27 before the visitors scored as time expired.

This is the fifth straight year for a Pennsylvania-Maryland matchup in the Big 33 game. Recent games have been played at Hersheypark Stadium.

The financially troubled Big 33 Scholarship Foundation closed its doors last year, and the Dauphin County Board of Commissioners pledged $100,000 in tourism dollars, funded from hotel room taxes, to ensure the game would continue. The commissioners worked with the Pennsylvania Scholastic Football Coaches Association, which took over the Big 33 Football Classic.