North Carroll took its undefeated record to Westminster Friday night, hoping to get a few of the big plays that have helped them in recent weeks, but the Owls were the ones that filled up the stat sheet.
In addition to a fake punt and a bizarre kickoff return touchdown, Owls senior quarterback Duke Etchison threw for five touchdowns, completing 15-of-20 passes for 142 yards to lead host Westminster to a 42-6 victory in a showdown of two of the three teams that began Friday undefeated in Carroll County.
"It's huge for momentum," Etchison said. "You don't want to get too lackadaisical when you're coming down the stretch here. It's really a wake-up call when you play a 7-0 team, so to come out here and put on a such a team effort, it's great."
Westminster (5-3) has won five straight games since falling to Linganore, Middletown and Urbana — all three Frederick County teams ranked in the top 11 in the Maryland High School Football Media State Poll. The Owls are now tied with South Carroll, which defeated Francis Scott Key 52-13 Friday, at 5-0. The Cavaliers will host the Owls in the season finale Nov. 8.
On the Owls' first play from scrimmage, Etchison helped senior Ryan Hursey break the county record for most receptions in a season. Hursey, the lone starting receiver back from last fall's state semifinalist team, broke the record of 59 catches set by Century's Brandon Soderstrom in 2010. Hursey finished Friday night's game with 64 receptions for the season after catching five passes for 71 yards, all in the first half.
"It means a lot to me, personally," Hursey said of the record. "But it's not really a credit to me, more to Duke and our offensive line that gives him time to throw. I wouldn't be catching passes without them."
Etchison threw four touchdown passes in the first half and another early in the third as the Owls rolled up a 42-0 lead early in the third quarter. He threw two touchdowns to Patrick Fitzgerald and one each to Brian Kohr and Chase Sankovich in the half.
After the break, Kohr bobbled the kickoff but still raced to midfield where he then fumbled. Teammate Noah Cain caught the ball on a bounce and ran the final 44 yards of an 87-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. Justin Cohen's extra point made it 35-0 and forced a running clock.
Late in the first half, the Owls had another big play when they faked a punt on fourth-and-5 from Westminster's 48-yard line and Andrew Raines ran for 40 yards. Kohr added 13 yards and then Etchison hit Sankovich for a 14-yard touchdown and 28-0 lead.
The Panthers finally scored when Jack Flowers hit Kyle Fiedler with a 2-yard touchdown pass with 20 seconds left in the game.
They had a chance to get on the board early when Fiedler lined up for a 30-yard field goal late in the first quarter, but the snap was too high to handle. Fiedler grabbed it and saw Jake Justice open on the right side but overthrew him.
"We drove the ball down inside the 20, and we had a penalty that put us out of the touchdown," Panthers coach Matt Martello said. "We went for the field goal which is a chip shot, usually. We had the bad snap and from that play on ... everything went downhill. This is the best team we'll see, I think."
North Carroll's 7-0 start was their best since 2007 — the last time North Carroll made the playoffs and the last time it defeated Westminster. Even with Friday night's loss, the Panthers still have more wins than the last three seasons combined.
NC 0 0 0 6 -- 6
W 7 21 14 0 -- 42
W—Fitzgerald 9 pass from Etchison (Cohen kick)
W—Fitzgerald 1 pass from Etchison (Cohen kick)
W—Kohr 2 pass from Etchison (Cohen kick)
W—Sankovich 14 pass from Etchison (Cohen kick)
W—Cain 44 fumble rec. (Cohen kick)
W—Uhlman 9 pass from Etchison (Cohen kick)
NC—Fiedler 2 pass from Flowers