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Carroll County Times

Commentary: New feel for North Carroll football

North Carroll football coach Matt Martello stood in front of his players after their thrilling 17-14 win at Smithsburg on Friday night, imploring them to quit dousing him with water after victories because he didn't want to catch a cold.

None of the Panthers were buying it. They know he'll be more than happy to risk getting sick if his team can keep this up.

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North Carroll, which finished 2012 looking up at every other team in the county following a 1-9 season, improved to 3-0.

That's not an every year occurence. In fact, three wins is generally about all the Panthers can hope for over an entire season considering that 26 times in the program's four-decade history they've won three or fewer. They've had eight winning seasons; the've had 13 years that produced one or zero wins

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"North Carroll is really no stranger to losing," running back Sean Floto said last week. "I think everyone in the county knows that and that's always in the back of our heads going into Monday practice and we just have to remember that if we don't work hard that's not too far behind us."

Not too far at all.

North Carroll hasn't started 3-0 since 2007, the last time the Panthers finished with more wins than losses. While Westminster had 12 wins last year, North Carroll had 12 total from 2008-2012. While South Carroll has been to the playoffs each of the past four years, North Carroll has four winning seasons since 1979. While newbie Manchester Valley, made up of players who grew up thinking they were going to play for North Carroll, won a playoff game last year, North Carroll has never experienced a postseason win.

"We're [traditionally] the doormat," Martello said Friday night.

Not anymore.

North Carroll is Carroll County's lone unbeaten team. The team with the clearest path to the playoffs. The team having the most fun right now.

Long after Friday's win there were hugs, cheers and smiles all around from the players and a sizable number of fans who made the lengthy drive into a remote Washington county outpost to see their Panthers get to 3-0 for only the sixth time in school history. The winning, clearly, is being appreciated.

"Coming from last year's record, to come out here and show everybody that we can play football," said NC's Aaron Heinle, who scored the winning touchdown on Friday night, "this is something else."

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The Panthers didn't play particularly well against Smithsburg. They committed three turnovers and were flagged 13 times for 142 yards. But there they were in the fourth quarter converting a fourth down, scoring a clutch touchdown and then making a defensive stand in the final minute.

"We pulled together as a team," Heinle said, "and did everything we could do to get the 'W.'"

There will be plenty of doubters, of course. The Panthers haven't exactly played a murderer's row of opponents through three weeks although they're playing exactly the type of schedule they should be playing, taking on like-sized schools. The rest of the season will be played against Carroll County teams, nearly all of which have significantly larger enrollments and more of a winning tradition.

And, as Martello said, "Now we're not going to sneak up on anybody."

No, at 3-0 North Carroll will be getting everybody's best shot, starting Friday night against Winters Mill. But, it should be noted, the other seven Carroll schools are a combined 6-15 this year. So the idea of the Panthers holding their own against the rest of the county seems plausible this fall. Maybe even likely.

Nobody is predicting a 10-0 season like Westminster enjoyed last year or like South Carroll and Century put together in recent years or like North Carroll fashioned in 1977, the high-water mark of the program.

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But if the Panthers could win three or four games over the final seven weeks of the season, they'd be in the 1A playoff hunt and they'd be celebrating only their second winning season since 1996, when the current NC seniors were still sleeping in cribs.

Ancient history means nothing to a teenager, of course. It doesn't matter that their predecessors struggled mightily under coach after coach after coach since the beginning of the Reagan Administration.

These Panthers moved up after experiencing success at the lower levels and now they're 3-0.

"Any coach will tell you there's a big difference between varsity and JV and freshmen, but, you know, they have won at North Carroll," Martello said. "And winning at North Carroll, no matter what level it is, is a big deal."


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