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‘Unique’ season underway as Carroll County football teams adjust to spring setting, COVID concerns

Westminster kicker Cam Doolan (17) and cousin Max Doolan celebrate after Cam made an extra point during the second half of the Owls' 21-6 win over the Lions at Western Regional Park in Woodbine Friday, March 5, 2021.
Westminster kicker Cam Doolan (17) and cousin Max Doolan celebrate after Cam made an extra point during the second half of the Owls' 21-6 win over the Lions at Western Regional Park in Woodbine Friday, March 5, 2021. (Dylan Slagle/Carroll County Times)

Five Carroll County football teams qualified for the regional playoffs a season ago, thanks to the state’s expanded postseason format. And even though there won’t be any playoffs this season amid a schedule altered by COVID-19, there’s excitement around the county with Carroll’s football players and coaches.

The 2020 season is being played over six weeks in March and April. Each team has six games, with one team having a bye each week.

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Here’s a team-by-team look at Carroll County Athletic League football as it they maneuver through March and April.

Century

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The Knights won their season opener March 5 at Western Regional Park by getting past Manchester Valley 12-0, but Century now faces COVID-19 issues within its program and Friday’s game against Liberty is canceled. When the Knights return, they’ll feature a potent ground game led by Landon Bruce. The senior rushed for 1,125 yards and 11 touchdowns a season ago.

Century also boasts backfield talent in its multiple offensive scheme with senior Dereik Crosby (673 yards, seven TDs), and junior Erik Harrell (331, one). Bruce and lineman Hunter Ebert are two of five returners on Century’s 4-3 defense, along with another lineman in senior Chris Gernand.

Fourth-year coach Todd Edmondson led the Knights to the Class 2A West playoffs in 2019. “Proud of every player and coach in their preparation for the start of this unique season,” Edmondson said via email. “Got a great group of returners that took a lead role in managing our preparation for the season.”

Century teammates celebrate an interception during a football game against Manchester Valley at Western Regional Park on Friday, March 5, 2021.
Century teammates celebrate an interception during a football game against Manchester Valley at Western Regional Park on Friday, March 5, 2021. (Brian Krista/Carroll County Times)

Francis Scott Key

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The Eagles (3-7) had their bye in Week 1 and start Friday at Winters Mill. They’re coming off a 1A North playoff berth, and second-year coach Will Thompson is changing something up this season — FSK is moving away from its traditional wing-T offense in favor of a spread formation.

The Eagles return eight juniors who started as sophomores in 2019, led by running backs Nick Diehl and Bryce Zepp, receiver Ryan Rill, and quarterback Jarren Rutter. The offense looks to replace first-team all-county receiver Ryan Bennett.

On Thompson’s 4-2-5 defense, look for Rill, Rutter, Zepp, and senior Ryan Stull in the middle, and Diehl in the backfield.

“We have the ability to compete with anyone,” Thompson said via email, “but staying healthy is our biggest key.”

FSK sophomore Ryan Rill runs the ball during the first half of the Eagles' season opener against Poly in Uniontown Friday, Sept.6, 2019.
FSK sophomore Ryan Rill runs the ball during the first half of the Eagles' season opener against Poly in Uniontown Friday, Sept.6, 2019. (Dylan Slagle/Carroll County TImes)

Liberty

After a run to the 2A state quarterfinals in 2019, with reigning Times Player of the Year Nathan Kent and a host of other key contributors having graduated, the Lions (8-4) are a young bunch this season. Seventh-year coach Larry Luthe said after Liberty’s Week 1 loss to Westminster that only eight seniors got minutes in the opener.

Jake Liska (6-foot-1, 275 pounds) is one of the Lions’ veterans and should anchor the offensive and defensive lines. Jack Pellicciotti, a sophomore, replaces Kent as quarterback in Liberty’s pistol/spread offense. And first-team all-county running back Tommy Nelson, a junior, is set to get plenty of touches. Nelson had 891 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns in 2019.

The Lions’ defense also graduated all-county linebacker McClain Butler, the Times’ Boys Athlete of the Year for 2019-20.

“This team is young, athletic and talented,” Luthe said via email. “Without 7-on-7s and working out as a team, we are trying to put our players in the best positions to help us be successful. We will be very competitive.”

Liberty running back Tommy Nelson looks for room to run during the second half of the Owls' 21-6 win over the Lions at Western Regional Park in Woodbine Friday, March 5, 2021.
Liberty running back Tommy Nelson looks for room to run during the second half of the Owls' 21-6 win over the Lions at Western Regional Park in Woodbine Friday, March 5, 2021. (Dylan Slagle / Carroll County Times)

Manchester Valley

A 4-0 start to the 2019 season led the Mavericks to a 3A East playoff spot. They won a postseason game and finished 6-5. Bernie Koontz, in his third season as coach, has five starters back on offense and four on defense.

The Mavs graduated running back Nathaniel Costley and linebacker Thomas Chenoweth, both first-team all-county picks, as well as several other contributors. Jackson Boothby, a senior, is of the top players in Man Valley’s spread/pro set offense. Owen Murphy, another senior, is the quarterback and Zach Bowen and Ja’Quan Dukes line up as receivers.

“The team will look to be competitive in a county that has some quality returning players,” Koontz said via email. “We are working to get better everyday at the little things and hope they will lead to success.”

Manchester Valley's Jackson Boothby takes a handoff up the middle as Century's Jack Dehart attempts a tackle during a football game at Western Regional Park on Friday, March 5, 2021.
Manchester Valley's Jackson Boothby takes a handoff up the middle as Century's Jack Dehart attempts a tackle during a football game at Western Regional Park on Friday, March 5, 2021. (Brian Krista/Carroll County Times)

South Carroll

Week 1 went SC’s way, a 21-3 victory over Winters Mill on March 6, and the Cavaliers can make it three wins in a row, dating to the 2019 season, with a victory this Friday against Westminster. Junior Ryan Barnard is the quarterback of third-year coach Mike Kraus’ pro/spread offensive scheme. Barnard has senior Antonio Bradford at running back, senior Sean Hakanson at receiver, and Shane Allison at tight end.

The Cavaliers (1-8) graduated all-county lineman Michael Crown but return senior Ben Blum (6-1, 295) to anchor the line, and junior Sean Patrick (6-4, 235) chips in on the defensive front.

“A very competitive group of players that have worked hard ... with the goal to return South Carroll to a prominent football program,” Kraus said via email.

South Carroll's Ryan Barnard is tackled by Winters Mill's Anthony Cegielski during a football game at Western Regional Park on Saturday, March 6, 2021.
South Carroll's Ryan Barnard is tackled by Winters Mill's Anthony Cegielski during a football game at Western Regional Park on Saturday, March 6, 2021. (Brian Krista/Carroll County Times)

Westminster

The reigning Carroll County Athletic League champs (9-3) defeated Liberty 21-6 in Week 1 behind 248 rushing yards and two touchdowns from senior back Erick Stranko, who led Carroll in 2019 with 1,295 yards and 19 TDs.

Stranko also totaled 9.5 tackles, one sack, and one forced fumble on defense last week for second-year coach Chris Bassler. Westminster lost seven all-county players on both sides the ball. But Stranko has help in senior Dimarco Brooks (WR/DB), seniors Noah Glass, Alan Jean Joseph, and Derek Williams (all OL/DL), and senior Austin Bainbridge (WR/DB).

Bassler also used junior Jack Gruenzinger and senior Luke Jorgensen at quarterback in Week 1.

“Extremely excited to get the opportunity to coach this senior heavy team,” Bassler said via email. “Really glad ... with COVID affecting so much to see this group compete and be on the field playing the game that they love.”

Westminster's Dimarco Brooks hauls in an interception during the first half of the Owls' game against the Lions at Western Regional Park in Woodbine Friday, March 5, 2021.
Westminster's Dimarco Brooks hauls in an interception during the first half of the Owls' game against the Lions at Western Regional Park in Woodbine Friday, March 5, 2021. (Dylan Slagle/Carroll County Times)

Winters Mill

Coming off a 4-5 season, the Falcons scored first in Week 1 against South Carroll but couldn’t keep up. Coach Matt Miller, now in his eighth season, has 11 starters back. Look for senior receiver Cam Vogel, a first-team all-county pick last season, to command attention in WM’s spread offense.

Senior Cooper Maus takes the quarterback role in Miller’s spread offense, with seniors Anthony Cegielski and Will Tobias as weapons. Tobias (defensive back) and Braxtyn Koch, a junior punter, were first-team all-county picks in 2019 for Winters Mill’s 3-3-5 scheme.

“We bring back a big senior class, some of whom have started or played on varsity since they’ve been 10th-graders,” Miller said via email. “We’re going to count on their leadership to help us adjust quickly to this ‘unprecedented’ season.”

Winters Mill's Will Tobias handles the ball on a run play during a football game at Western Regional Park on Saturday, March 6, 2021.
Winters Mill's Will Tobias handles the ball on a run play during a football game at Western Regional Park on Saturday, March 6, 2021. (Brian Krista/Carroll County Times)

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