The best high school football team in Carroll County will not be going to the playoffs.
Westminster won its first county championship since 2005 with a resounding 39-6 victory over host South Carroll in Friday's regular-season finale.
But even on a night when the playoff scenario shaped up just as the team wanted — Westminster won and playoff rival Perry Hall lost — the Owls' 2011 campaign is done.
Coach Brad Wilson's team was eliminated from the Class 4A North Region playoffs because of a forfeit loss last week to Manchester Valley — a loss that was confirmed Friday when the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association denied an appeal from the school.
'It's not fair, but what can you do?'
The Owls defeated Manchester Valley, 57-7, on Oct. 28 for what appeared to be their seventh consecutive victory. But Westminster used an ineligible player during the last offensive series of the rout.
The player was ruled ineligible because he had played in a junior varsity game earlier that week, and Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association rules state that a football player can only play one game in the span of a week.
Manchester Valley reported the violation to county supervisor of athletics Jim Rodriguez, who notified the MPSSAA. The forfeit victory was awarded to the Mavericks.
Officials from Westminster and the Carroll County Public Schools, including Wilson and school principal Ken Goncz, told their side of the story at a Friday appeal hearing.
But the MPSSAA denied Westminster's appeal and upheld the forfeit, thus costing the Owls a playoff berth.
Without the forfeit, Westminster's win at South Carroll would have put the Owls in the four-team regional playoffs. The Owls would have passed fourth-place Perry Hall (8-2), which lost to Hereford 34-31 in overtime Friday night.
But due to Westminster's forfeit, the Perry Hall Gators clinched the fourth spot.
Before the Manchester Valley game, Wilson had asked Westminster athletic director Terry Molloy if it was within the rules to promote the player from the junior varsity. Molloy asked Rodriguez, who ensured Westminster that the player was eligible for action in the game against the Mavericks.
"These kids are being cheated," said an emotional Wilson, whose Owls completed the season with an 8-2 overall mark and a 6-1 county record. "I wanted to make absolutely sure, so I went to my boss (Molloy) and he checked with Jim Rodriguez. Jim not only said he could play, but that he could even go back to jayvee and then come back up for this week's game.
"It's not fair, but what can you do?" Wilson said. "It's a shame that it has to end this way."
Falcons, too, win but still lose in playoff hunt
The final night of the season was also disappointing for Winters Mill. The Falcons rolled over winless Francis Scott Key, 38-8, to finish with a 6-4 record.
But coach Ken Johnson's team was edged out for the fourth and final Class 2A West Region playoff spot by Williamsport, which posted a 13-6 victory over Clear Spring.
The Wildcats, who were tied with Winters Mill for the final spot entering Friday's action, finished the regular season at 5-5 but still finished higher in the MPSSAA's points system to claim the playoff berth.
Cavaliers are Carroll's lone playoff squad
For the second consecutive year, the county will have just one team in the postseason. South Carroll is in the Class 2A West Region playoffs for the third straight season.
The Cavaliers, who finished the regular season with a 6-4 overall record and 6-1 county mark, are the region's third seed and will travel to second-seeded Walkersville on Friday, Nov. 11, for a 7 p.m. game.
Walkersville lost for the first time in its regular-season finale, falling to Middletown by a 32-25 score. The Lions defeated Frederick County heavyweights Urbana and Linganore earlier this season.
On Friday night, coach Steve Luette's South Carroll squad was no match for a Westminster team that was clearly the cream of the county. The Owls' senior tailback, Dan Johnson, gained 136 yards on 13 carries and scored four touchdowns. He was actually out gained by Owl quarterback Romie Cheese, who ran for 229 yards on 23 carries in his final high school game.
Johnson's 20-yard touchdown run midway through the first quarter started the scoring. The Westminster back ran in from 30 and five yards to boost the lead to 19-0, before South Carroll senior back Dan Mullen's 27-yard scoring run made it 19-6 at the half.
Cheese hit Johnson for a 30-yard score early in the third quarter, and Justin Somerville returned a blocked punt 18 yards for a touchdown with 7:52 remaining to put the game away. Cheese's 83-yard touchdown sprint with 2:10 left completed the scoring.
The Owls outscored their seven county opponents by a combined total of 289-33. The Westminster defense posted three shutouts, and didn't allow a county foe to score more than 14 points.
"This was one of the top defenses that Westminster has ever had," said Johnson, one of two Owls who played on both sides of the ball.
"It really hurts," he said of Westminster's post-season ouster. "We were state contenders, but were stripped of the opportunity. Right now, I have a lot of mixed feelings."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun