The Westminster Wildcats 13-under football team has had a great run during its time as part of Westminster's youth football program. And this year, this talented group of eighth-graders could go out in a blaze of glory.
With only Clarksville left to play in this weekend's regular-season finale, the squad is 7-0 in the Carroll County Youth Football League.
Jason Bainbridge has coached the team all but one year since the players were second graders. It has made the playoffs every year and appeared in four Super Bowls.
It has gone 2-2 in those games, including a 14-6 win over Arbutus in last year’s Super Bowl.
Arbutus, also 7-0, is also its chief rival this year..
The two won't meet in the regular season. A scheduling quirk has Westminster playing Clarksville twice, while Arbutus faces Damascus twice.
If the two finish tied for first, Arbutus gets the nod by virtue of its tougher schedule. Second, there's the lack of awareness factor.
“I'd like to play them so we can see what they've got,” Bainbridge said. “You can watch films, but it isn't the same. They beat us in the regular season last year, but we saw what they had. Now, we'll have to get it right the first time."
His Wildcats have certainly gotten it right against everybody else so far.
They lead the 13-under loop with 192 points — more than 27 points per game.
And they’ve given up eight points — one touchdown.
That came last Saturday when they played their closest game of the year, hanging on to beat North Carroll 14-8.
Bainbridge credits much of the success to the fact that most of the team has played together for years now. He notes they aren’t big players. Ironically, the biggest player — roughly 200 pounds — is the team’s only seventh grader. The linemen average only about 145.
“But we are a tall team and have a lot of speed,” Bainbridge said. “They have a lot of aggressiveness, and they’ve played together a long time. Each player knows the others will be in the right places and will make the right plays when they get there."
The offensive line opens the holes for backs and gives the passing game time to work
The defensive line sets things up for the linebackers. They bottle up the opposing blockers, making it easier for the linebackers to make most of the tackles.
Westminster’s running game is solid with two strong backs.
"The backs hit the holes quickly and occasionally break a long play,” Bainbridge said.
The passing game can also be explosive, he said, and the two components compliment each other.
Said Bainbridge, “our quarterback has 15 touchdown passes and only two interceptions this year."
Westminster opened the year with six shutouts, something this team had never done according to its coach. Probably not too many other teams have done it either.
He had lost three players from his 2017 Super Bowl championship team, and added five new players this season. Three of them were up from the Wildcats 12-under squad.
Despite the changes, Bainbridge and assistant coaches Jarrett Bowen, Marcus Lewis, and Brian Grove felt they had a good team again.
They got a good idea of their team’s capabilities when it scrimmaged Westminster High School’s junior varsity team before the season. It lost by only a touchdown.
The closeness of the game between his kids and opponents a year or two older pleased Bainbridge, and probably the Westminster football coaching staff as well.
That's because nine of the Wildcats players likely move on to Westminster next year.
Last Saturday, the Wildcats came closer to losing than it has all year. But it didn’t start that way.
The Wildcats quickly jumped ahead in the first quarter. Quarterback Donovan Lewis passed twice to receiver Collin Bainbrdge for a total of 60 yards down to the North Carroll 8-yard line.
Lewis then gave to back Connor Anderson, and he ran it in for the first touchdown. Lewis kicked the two-point conversion.
Later in the quarter. Lewis passed to Bainbrdge for 20 yards and anther touchdown. The two-point conversion kick failed, and the Wildcats led 14-0
North Carroll scored a touchdown and two-point conversion in the second quarter, making the score 14-8.
Westminster protected that lead throughout the second half. A Wildcats’ fourth-quarter, goal-line stand stopped the final North Carroll drive.
Lewis intercepted a pass to climax that stand and give he ball back to his team.
“We put on a drive and controlled the ball the rest of the game,” Bainbrdge said.
After this week’s final regular-seaon game, Westminster enters the playoffs. Bainbridge hasn’t seen Arbutus yet, but knows it has a strong running attack.
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“If we see them,” he said, “I expect a tough game.”