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High-flying offense leads No. 5 Westminster into playoffs

Westminster football coach Brad Wilson keeps a handful of adages on 3-by-5 index cards affixed to the the wall above his desk, including one that sums up his favorite style of offense: "When you're on, pass, and when you're off, pass until you're on."

This fall, the No. 5 Owls have been about as on as they can get.

Their aerial attack has gained 325 yards and scored more than five touchdowns per game en route to a 10-0 record and the top seed in Class 4A North, earning them a regional semifinal home game Friday at 7 p.m. against James H. Blake (6-4) from Montgomery County.

The Owls turned heads with early season wins over Frederick County powers Urbana, 35-21, and Linganore, 49-14, and gained national notice when they ended Martinsburg, W.Va.'s 32-game winning streak, 36-33, on Sept. 21.

Senior quarterback Deryk Kern has twice tied the state record with seven touchdown passes in a game and has thrown for 52 touchdowns and 3,092 yards with eight interceptions. He has so many options, he's like a little kid deciding which Christmas present to open first. They all look so promising.

Receivers Garrett Bean, Bradley Metcalf, Darius Clifton and Ryan Hursey, as well as running back Dan Johnson, can catch just about anything Kern puts up and they have the speed and the moves to gain a lot of yardage after the catch.

"They attack the ball. If it's in the air close to them, they're going to catch it," said Martinsburg coach David Walker, whose two-time state champion Bulldogs are 9-1 and have outscored their other nine opponents by an average of 47 points.

"Those receivers run great routes, they're very disciplined, they go up and get the ball and I think they have a very good understanding of what they do offensively," Walker said. "They can adjust their routes. If the quarterback gets flushed out of the pocket or has to move around, they work their way back to the quarterback. You can tell they've been playing together for a long time."

The players said that is one of the keys to their success.

All the seniors — only Hursey is a juinor — have been playing together since they were sophomores. A few also had experience together coming up through rec leagues.

"I think it definitely helps that we've played together since we were sophomores, because we have that experience, but we're also friends," Bean said. "We're always together hanging out, so it's not just a friendship on the field, but a friendship off the field. That definitely helps, because it's not all football all the time."

That makes sharing the ball a lot easier.

While Bean has the most receptions — 43 for 882 yards and 15 touchdowns — the others aren't far behind. Metcalf has 33 catches for 662 yards and 14 touchdowns, Clifton has 38 catches fro 782 yards and eight touchdowns, Johnson has 31 catches for 536 yards and eight touchdowns and Hursey has 15 catches for 112 yards and six touchdowns.

"They understand that it's not about them individually," Wilson said. "Any of them can have good games. It can be a combination of two or it can be a combination of three. As an opposing defense, that's hard to defend. If you have to defend one or two guys, you can probably do that, but if you have to defend four guys, that's tough."

Wilson said Kern, also the point guard on the basketball team, is the one who makes the decisions on the field. The first-year starter likes to keep a balance, but that can be a challenge.

"It's mostly just whoever's open at the right time, that's who I'm going to hit," Kern said. "I'm not going to choose a receiver one game just to get a bunch of throws. In our Linganore game, it just happened that Garrett had those five touchdowns. I didn't plan it beforehand."

Bean caught a state record-tying five touchdown passes in the win over Linganore in which Kern threw seven touchdowns. Both are Monocacy Valley Athletic League records. There could be more records and more big stats, but with so many lopsided wins, the starters rarely play much of the second half.

Kern, however, has set MVAL marks for most passing yards in a season, most touchdown passes in a season and most passing yards in a game (309), all breaking 2005 records set by former Owls quarterback Kevin Clancy. He is also closing in on the state record of 56 touchdowns, set by Arundel's Billy Cosh in 2008, and has a chance at Cosh's record of of 3,913 single-season passing yards.

His receivers give him high marks for running the offense.

"Deryk's really good at reading the defense," Bean said, "knowing where on the field is going to be open and leading receivers, throwing the ball open so once we get to where we're going, the ball's already there. We're not waiting for the ball to get there. That way, we can catch it and we can just go."

The Owls honed their skills over the summer in 7-on-7 tournaments. They beat Good Counsel, the state's No. 1 team, in one, but more importantly, Wilson said, the players learned more about their own offense.

"The 7-on-7, I think, is huge for what we do and I get into a lot of them," Wilson said. "We run our offense, so to me it's not about the winning. It's about the kids learning what they're doing. You get to see defenses, you understand what they're trying to do, where we want to attack during the plays and on the adjustments to the plays. "

Adept at creating space and catching the ball at speed under the tutelage of receivers coach Matt Cahill, the Owls receivers are willing to block for each other, too.

"They're great blockers," Johnson said. "When they get the ball, they might only have to make one person miss and everyone else is taken care of by the other receivers. Rather than the receiver having to go against all their [defensive] backs, if you make one person miss, you can be gone."

While the Owls’ focus is on the passing game, they can certainly run the ball as well. Johnson has 61 carries for 488 yards.

In a 42-7 win over South Carroll last week that sealed the first perfect regular season in school history, they scored just three passing touchdowns, but Johnson ran for two -- his only two rushing touchdowns this season -- and Kern ran for another.

“We had a concentrated effort to try to shut down their passing game,” South Carroll coach Steve Luette said, “and they started running on us. They’ve got a really good set of receivers, but if you shut them down with their passing, they’ve got Johnson as a running back. He’s a great running back and he can also catch the ball, so he goes out on the screens and keeps you honest so you don’t drop everybody in coverage.”

The Owls' quick strike ability is evident in their time of possession. Although they're outscoring the opposition by 31.5 points, their opponents have the ball more than 12 minutes longer in each game. Credit also goes to the offensive line of Drew Averett, Drew Titus, Tyler Hiltner, Nick Frazee and Jake Nickoles, which other than 340-pound Frazee, weighs in at 240 or under.

There's no secret to the Owls' goal for the season — they want to win Westminster's first state football championship. Each record and each win provide a little more motivation.

"We're practicing to be the best players that we can be," Johnson said, "so in the end, we are the best team — and the best we can be is the best in the state."

katherine.dunn@baltsun.com

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