Team PA Wins Big 33 Thriller, Kenny Johnson Steals The Show

Written by: Billy Splain on May 30, 2023. Photo courtesy Leo Murray


Mike Farr said it has been nearly a life long dream of his to coach in the Big 33 Football Classic, and during a recent interview he said, “nothing less than winning is acceptable.”

That condition nearly took a hit when Maryland took the lead for the first time since their victory in 2018. But it was the defense of Team PA, and a superb catch from Kenny Johnson with just over a minute to play, that carried Team PA to the 31-27 win before a huge crowd at Rocco Ortenzio Stadium.

“He’s a special player, that kid can ball. Pitt is getting a great athlete,” said Farr.

PA got on the board quickly and for nearly the entire first quarter it began to look like it has the past four years, a Maryland team that was about to get dominated. Jahmil Perryman busted loose for a 52-yard touchdown to put PA up 7-0 just minutes into the game. Then Ben Sosnowski hit a 43-yard field goal to increase the lead to 10-0 midway through the first quarter.

But this was a different Maryland team loaded with talent. On the ensuing drive Maryland drove to the PA 15 and Bryce Cox turned the corner and the momentum around with a 15-yard run to end the first quarter. The Maryland defense clamped down on Team PA and for a while they controlled the game, until Sincere Smith got a chance to field a punt. 66 yards later, Team PA went back up 17-7 and it stayed that way through halftime.

“My guys just made room for me,” said Smith.

The PA defense came up huge near the end of the first half, coming up with a crucial drive stopping interception in the end zone, then getting a goal line stand to end the half. Maryland punted to PA but the receiver for PA lost control of the ball, giving Maryland the ball with a very short field.

Bryce Cox, who won the MVP for Maryland, kept the momentum up for Maryland in the second half. Cox got his second touchdown of the game to draw MD within three points with a 2-yard run.

But this game was never fully controlled by either team. PA shot right back with a huge reception from Johnson, then a 1 yard run from Perryman. “This is my MVP,” said an exuberant Johnson of the McKeesport running back. Perry took the ball in from two yards out to put PA up 24-14 with 4:17 left in the third. Then Maryland had perhaps their best shot at winning the Big 33 trophy since 2018. Sean Williams drove Team MD downfield and took the ball in from 10 yards out to close the gap. They missed the crucial point after, but in the end it wouldn’t come into play. With just over 4 minutes left, the Maryland team drove with purpose and desperation and took the lead with Sean Johnson driving in from 10 yards out.

It looked like Johnson was going to get the winning score with a long touchdown run but that play was called back on a penalty, a crack back block that didn’t even need to happen. But the Pitt bound athlete just came up with another way to win the game when he out stretched a Maryland defender and hauled in a perfectly placed pass by Upper Dublin’s Colin O’Sullivan to preserve the win.

  1 2 3 4 F
7 0 13 7 27
10 7 7 7 31
Team Stats Full Boxscore
1st Downs 18 13
Pass Yards 219 184
Rush Yards 100 129
Total Plays (Yards) 61 (319) 45 (313)
Punts (Avg. Yards) 5 (32.2) 5 (37.2)
Penalties (Yards) 4 (40) 10 (89)