Westminster's football team hadn't met an opponent as fast as Franklin this season, and they certainly hadn't seen a player as fast as Steven Smothers.
The versatile sophomore torched the Owls for three big-play touchdowns — a 69-yard reception, a 59-yard interception return and an 84-yard kickoff return — among his four touchdowns as the No. 12 Indians rolled to a 49-14 victory over visiting Westminster Friday night in a Class 3A North regional semifinal.
Smothers finished with 276 all-purpose yards, but all of that came after he fumbled the ball away on the game's first drive.
"He's a dynamic kid,” Franklin coach Anthony Burgos said. "He's got great speed, great vision and his ability to make those big plays. Even after he fumbled the ball, he was able to rebound. Something like that for another kid might set him back, but he just kind of said to me, 'Hey, coach I'll get the next one.'"
Westminster coach Brad Wilson said Smothers was, by far, the best player the Owls had seen all season.
"He's special," Wilson said. "I hope he does his schoolwork and stays after it, because if he does, he could go far."
The top-seeded Indians (8-2) turned the ball over twice in the first quarter, but Smothers scored three touchdowns in the second quarter as the Indians turned a 7-6 deficit into a 35-7 halftime lead.
Darius Hinton, who had 110 yards on 11 carries, blazed the trail for Smothers with a 67-yard touchdown run midway through the first quarter. Westminster quarterback Duke Etchison then made the Indians pay for a turnover on the kick return, by hitting Patrick Fitzgerald with a 5-yard touchdown pass. Justin Cohen's extra point gave the Owls a 7-6 lead with 4:11 left in the first quarter.
On the first play of the second quarter, however, the Smothers show started as he grabbed a 14-yard touchdown pass from junior quarterback Jacquez Adams. Adams, who was 9-for-10 passing for 186 yards and ran 11 times for 84 yards, then converted the two-point run to give the Indians a 14-7 lead.
Smothers scored on the long run and the interception return and Adams added a 3-yard scoring run for a 35-7 halftime lead.
The Owls (7-4) played without three key offensive threats – wide receivers Ryan Hursey and Chase Sankovich and running back Brian Kohr. Without those options and facing a lot of pressure from the Indians' defensive line of Julius Fakhoury, Matt White, Aman Speed and Luis Belmontes, Etchison struggled. The Indians opened the second half with two sacks on the Owls' first three plays. Fakhoury got Etchison first and Sam Solomon and Bruce Damon combined for a second sack.
Smothers ended the Owls' drive with his second interception of the night and eight plays later, Hinton scored on a 2-yard run for a 42-7 Indians lead. That kicked in the running clock with a 35-point lead until Etchison hit Fitzgerald with a 2-yard scoring pass with 1:45 left in the game. Then Smothers struck for the final time.
“I give a big shout out to our scout offense and defense, because they really prepared us for this game,” Smothers said. “They gave us those looks and it just became second nature. I kind of started off early with little mishaps. I had a fumble, but after that I just got in my car, kept my composure and I put four touchdowns on the board.”
The Indians advance to meet the winner of Saturday's 3A North semifinal between second-seeded Milford Mill (7-3) and third-seeded Aberdeen (7-3), which kicks off at 1 p.m. at Milford Mill. All four semifinal teams have been to the state semifinals within the past three years. The Indians reached the title game in 2010.
Franklin's last two playoff runs ended in a 33-28 loss to Milford Mill in the regional final last season and in a 32-20 loss to Aberdeen in the 2011 semifinals. The Indians avenged their loss to Milford, winning 35-18 on Oct. 26, but they have not faced Aberdeen in the last two years.
The Owls had won seven straight games after losing the first three to Frederick County teams -- Middletown, Linganore and Urbana -- all ranked in the Top 15 in the state media poll. They then ran the table in Carroll County and clinched a playoff berth on the final night of the regular season.
“We knew we were going to have to perfect and we weren't and they capitalized, but when you lose three offensive starters at your skill positions, that's going to hurt you,” said Wilson, whose team reached the Class 4A state semifinals last season
“I told them this is one game, and it's not the way you want to finish, but I'm proud of these kids. [After starting] 0-3, they didn't have to play the way they did last week (coming back to beat South Carroll 43-40), so I'm not going to remember these kids for this one game, I'm going to remember them for those seven games.
W 7 0 0 7 -- 14
F 6 29 7 7 -- 49
F—Hinton 67 run (kick failed)
W—Fitzgerald 5 pass from Etchison (Ju.Cohen kick)
F—Smothers 13 pass from Ja.Adams (Ja.Adams run)
F—Smothers 70 run (Bray kick)
F—Ja.Adams 3 run (Bray kick)
F—Smothers 56 int. return (Bray kick)
F—Hinton 2 run (Bray kick)
W—Fitzgerald 2 pass from Etchison (Ju.Cohen kick)
F—Smothers 73 kick return (Bray kick)Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun