Football: Balance carrying Owls' offense into regional final

Contact ReporterCarroll County Times

Wind up the spread offense of the Westminster High football team and watch it go.

The Owls are explosive, but they are balanced.

Westminster can pass (2,021 yards) and run (1,601) equally well, and is averaging a 39.5 points per game.

All those points give defensive coordinators fits, and the Owls (10-1) hope that’s the case once more when they host Linganore (9-2) on Friday at 7 p.m. in a Class 3A West Region final.

“It puts a tremendous amount of stress on a defense,” Westminster coach Matt Study said of his offense. “Most high schools don’t have the personnel to defend four receivers, a running back that can catch out of the backfield, a running back that can run and a quarterback that can run and throw. Having to defend [seven] players that can get the ball at any one time is difficult.”

The toughest player to defend may be speedy slot receiver Zane Lewis, who has been catching passes from junior quarterback Christian Etchison.

“He is like a utility knife,” Study said of Lewis. “We can put him all over the place.”

Lewis, a senior and standout sprinter on the Westminster indoor and outdoor track teams, leads the team with 33 receptions for 565 yards and five touchdowns.

He also has a punt return and kickoff return for a touchdown, along with two interceptions — one of which went for 105 yards against Francis Scott Key when he was playing cornerback.

“Last week, they double covered Zane to try to take him out of the game, and rolled coverage over top,” Study said of Watkins Mill during the Owls’ 58-18 win in the regional semifinal. “They were running triple coverage on Zane. So when you do that, you are going to open up the run game.”

Junior Jaden Louis and freshman Erick Stranko make a nice tandem of running backs.

Louis ranks as the team leader in rushing yards (644) and touchdowns (10), but his numbers could likely be better if hadn’t been hampered by a high ankle sprain for a month.

He rushed for four touchdowns to key the win over Watkins Mill, but gained more yards in wins over South Hagerstown (106) and Salesianum (102), a top-notch program from Wilmington, Del.

With Louis sidelined, Study promoted Stranko from junior varsity. The rookie gained 78 yards on six carries Sept. 22 against Manchester Valley, a 50-7 win, then rushed for 155 yards and touchdown in a 36-14 win over Francis Scott Key the following week.

“It’s extremely rare for someone like him to come up and perform the way he has,” Study said. “He is a very special athlete.”

Louis and Stranko are running behind a big and physical offensive line — right tackle Noah Boguski (6-6, 315), right guard Jack Conrad (5-9, 200), center Tre Price (6-0, 218), left guard Noah Buttiglieri (6-3, 295), and left tackle Joe Parry (6-4, 230).

“The offensive line has done a tremendous job,” Study said. “We will go as far as the offensive line will take us.”

Etchison, a transfer from McDonogh School in Owings Mills, is glad he’s protected by Westminster’s solid offensive line. He has 1,728 passing yards and 23 touchdowns, along with 299 rushing yards and five scores.

Study says Etchison has been an invaluable passer.

“You need someone who understands that when you have playmakers, a 5-yard pass can turn into 70 really fast,” Study said. “He understands that. There are some quarterbacks who all they want to do is when they see playmakers is throw it deep.”

Etchison has more playmakers than just Lewis.

Roman Hawkins (28 receptions, 471 yards, TDs), Logan Nave (25, 300, five) and Chase Birdow (12, 171, four) are also enticing targets.

Hawkins said he enjoys playing within an offense that attacks an opponent in so many ways.

“Since there are so many different athletes on the team, we have so many playmakers,” Hawkins said. “If one’s having an off game, the other one’s doing well. We just have to get the ball into the playmakers’ hands. … They just do the work.”

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story listed Westminster running back Jaden Louis as a senior.

Pat Stoetzer contributed to this story.


3A West Region Final

Who: Linganore (9-2) at Westminster (10-1)

Where: Ruby Field, Westminster HS

When: Friday, 7 p.m.


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