It was too close for comfort at times for Westminster’s football team, but the Owls found a way to prevail.
The Owls got past a persistent Marriotts Ridge team 16-7, thanks to touchdown runs from running backs Nate Mattingly and Erick Stranko, and a strong defensive performance in Friday’s Class 3A East second-round playoff game at Ruby Field.
“We came out with the win and that’s all that matters,” Stranko said. “It’s playoffs, we did what we needed to do and we’re on to next week.”
Marriotts Ridge and Westminster were each held to a three-and-out to start the game. Owls senior defensive back Matt Annulis recovered a Mustangs punt, but the Mustangs recovered the ball on the Owls’ first play of their next drive.
The Owls (9-2) drove the ball about 54 yards before senior kicker Evan Warren drilled a 24-yard field goal to give the host team a 3-0 lead early in the second quarter.
Junior quarterback Luke Jorgensen connected with senior fullback Ethan Zepp for a 17-yard pickup with under eight minutes to go and the Mustangs’ defense held the Owls to 26 yards of offense. The Owls settled for a 49-yard field goal attempt from Warren, but the kick fell just short of the uprights.
The Mustangs were forced to go three-and-out on their next drive, and Westminster responded with a 46-yard drive that ended with senior running back Mattingly finding the end zone with a 9-yard carry to give the Owls a 10-0 lead.
There were less than two minutes left in the quarter when Westminster senior Jack Conrad blocked Marriotts Ridge’s punt and the Owls regained possession at the Mustangs’ 19-yard line.
However, Marriotts Ridge junior Jack Baxter recovered a Westminster fumble almost immediately to regain possession.
The Mustangs (8-3) collected 80 yards on 15 plays on their opening drive of the second half. Senior Ryan Reeling edged his way into the end zone for a 2-yard touchdown to get the Mustangs on the board.
Connor Moran muffed a punt and Marriotts Ridge recovered the ball at the end of the third quarter. Mustangs junior kicker Evan Bury attempted a 39-yard field goal at the start of the fourth quarter, but the kick fell short and wide of its target.
The Owls garnered their first first down of the second half with an 11-yard carry from Stranko, who found the end zone three plays later on a 29-yard run with 8:28 left in the fourth quarter.
“We just kept finding the ball," Owls senior lineman Tre Price said. "Even if they made a big play, we just came back the next play hitting hard and being physical.”
Baltimore Ravens linebacker Tyus Bowser served as the Owls’ honorary captain for the game and watched from the sideline as Westminster earned its ninth straight victory.
Westminster defeated Long Reach 47-28 last week to advance, and the Owls haven’t lost since Sept. 13. Since then, the Carroll County Athletic League champions have shut out three teams inc consecutive weeks, a testament to the team’s tenacious defense.
The eight winners of the second-round region games qualify for the state quarterfinals on Friday, Nov. 22 or Saturday, Nov. 23. The eight teams in each classification will be re-seeded based on regular season point average with the higher-seeded teams earning home field advantage.
“It’s a team game and we shot ourselves in the foot at times but I told these guys any win in November is a good win," Owls coach Chris Bassler said. "There’s things we have to get cleaned up, but fortunately, we get another week of practice.”