The Westminster Wildcats were up against a 36-game winning streak when they took the field last Saturday against the Arbutus Golden Eagles in the Carroll County Youth Football and Cheer League's 12-under Super Bowl.
A Super Bowl is a tough place to end an opponent's 36-game skein. That's particularly true when some of those wins, including a Super Bowl victory in 2015, were over you.
However the most significant to Wildcats coach Jason Bainbridge was October's 35-16 drubbing by the Eagles.
Interestingly, he had considered that game a plus, so much a plus that he felt his team could win the rematch if there ever was one. It turns out that he was right.
Westminster's Wildcats beat the odds and gave their home crowd at Jaycee Park a thrill as the youngsters beat Arbutus 14-6 to win the Super Bowl.
Bainbridge's team has had a pretty successful run of its own in recent years. It beat the Laurel Steelers in the 9-under Super Bowl in 2014. It lost to Arbutus in 2015. Last fall, it made the playoffs but lost to Olney in the semifinals.
This year, a lot of youngsters came out for the Wildcats, and program officials decided to create a second team, Westminster Yellow. Bainbridge coached the Green team which had most of the players from last year's squad.
Green was a talented bunch, but there was a problem. The kids weren't very big, and their coaches felt that could be a problem when they faced bigger teams such as Arbutus.
"We were giving up 30 to 40 pounds per man on the line,” Bainbridge said. “Their interior linemen were pushing the 185-pound limit while ours were about 135.”
On offense, he believed this weight edge would allow Arbutus linemen to simply blast his defenders out of the way and run the ball at will. And, his own offense would probably run up against a solid wall unless he changed it.
"Our line was small although it had good technique,” Bainbridge said. “But it couldn't bowl over the heavier guys. So on offense, we tried to operate out of a spread. We used a quick passing game and quarterback option plays to get around the edge.”
The strategy worked in this season's first three games, two of which Westminster won easily. But Winfield provided a big test in the fourth game.
Westminster though, won it 14-2.
"That was our biggest game of the season at that point. They had a pretty decent offense, but our defense shut them down. On offense, our passing game opened up the running game," Bainbridge said.
The team's successes continued with two lopsided shutout wins. But then came Arbutus.
Bainbridge had worried about the Eagles grinding his team down with its running game. Instead, Arbutus won with quick strikes. However, the Wildcats' coach was confident that the mistakes which he felt were responsible for the long plays, could be corrected.
"We had pass coverage mistakes, and their quarterback broke lose for a couple of long runs,” the coach said. “But aside from four plays, they didn't drive the ball on us. We were somewhat encouraged they didn't bowl us over, and we thought we could fix our defense.”
His kids recovered to beat Clarksburg and Olney in close games to run their regular season record to 8-1 and finish second. Arbutus was 9-0.
Each team drew a first-round playoff bye. Arbutus blanked Olney 27-0 in the second-round game Nov. 11.
Westminster, which had beaten North Carroll 14-2 in their regular-season meeting, scored three first-half touchdowns to top the Titans 22-0 in its playoff.
Wildcats quarterback Donovan Lewis capped a 75-yard first-quarter drive with a 5-yard touchdown run to make it 6-0.
Connor Anderson's 15-yard scamper and Lewis' two-point conversion kick made it 14-0 in the second quarter. Lewis passed 25-yards to Collin Bainbridge for the third touchdown before halftime, and Lewis booted another two-point conversion.
The Wildcats' defense did the rest in blanking the Titans. That brought on the Super Bowl.
The first half was a defensive battle in which the only score was a 40-yard scramble by Arbutus quarterback Connor Hawkings to put the Golden Eagles atop 6-0 at intermission.
But the Wildcats struck from afar midway through the third quarter. Lewis hit Bainbridge with a 65-yard touchdown pass, and the quarterback added the two-point kick to put Westminster on top 8-6.
Midway through the fourth quarter with Arbutus pinned deep in its territory, Westminster's defense applied the clincher. On a passing play, Wildcats linebacker Brandon Athey hit the Arbutus' quarterback, the ball rolled free and Bainbridge, playing linebacker, picked up the ball and ran in for his second touchdown.
That made it 14-6, and the Golden Eagles' winning streak was soon over.
"The parents and kids were ecstatic,” Bainbridge said. “A lot of people had felt that Arbutus was invincible.They had run the table for so long.”
His team can come back one more time next fall as a 13-under squad and then it's off to high school.