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Football: Changes to schedule gives more teams a chance for postseason contention

Changes are coming to Maryland’s public high school football schedule this fall.

The Maryland Public Secondary School Athletic Association Board of Control voted to shorten the state’s high school football regular season from 10 games to nine at its annual spring meeting at the end of April.

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This new format extends the postseason by one week and doubles the number of eligible teams from the top four from each region to the top eight in each of the state’s four classifications.

Winters Mill coach Matt Miller said he is in favor of the changes and thinks it will give more teams a chance to play in the postseason.

“Some regions are more concentrated with talent and it’s certainly not always the same region but some years you have a county with a lot of good teams,” Miller said. “In years past, some teams made it behind teams that maybe didn’t have the same credentials. It’s nobody’s fault, it’s just how the system was.”

Teams that don’t make the playoffs will play one less game now that the 10th regular-season matchup has been eliminated.

Under the previous system, two section champions met to decide a regional victor with a spot to the final four on the line. Now, the two remaining teams will advance to the quarterfinals and the eight teams in the state quarterfinals will be re-seeded after those first two weeks.

Liberty coach Larry Luthe said he does not think these changes will affect the season too much. The top teams will still be the top teams, he said, but it’s a positive way to open up playoff contention for more teams.

Liberty opens its regular season at home against Linganore, one of the “premiere programs” in the state, Luthe said. The Lions travel to Walkersville in Week 2 and face crosstown rival Century in Week 3, a game that was traditionally played in Week 10.

The Lancers won their sixth state championship in 2017 and were state finalists in Class 3A in 2018.

“It’s a great test for us to know who we are and where we stand,” Luthe said. “We’re excited to take on that opportunity with our schedule. I don’t think we could take that opportunity with two losses. Traditionally, in our region, you may make the playoffs with two losses but with three, you definitely won’t.”

In 2015, Liberty was 7-2 heading into its annual rivalry game with Century. The Knights defeated the Lions and Liberty fell short of a playoff appearance with a 7-3 record. Luthe said the new alignment gives teams something to play for longer into the season.

“There’s a couple things,” Luthe said. “It allows playoff opportunities for teams later in the season, which I think is huge. It also allows people to open their scheduling up to have a little more of a challenge in the regular season.”

Winters Mill added Fallston, Pikesville, and Sparrows Point to its schedule and Miller, cited some familiarity with Fallston because the Falcons have scrimmaged the Cougars before. The Falcons have never played Pikesville or Sparrows Point.

Three Carroll teams finished under .500 last fall — Francis Scott Key, Manchester Valley, and Winters Mill. Had the new format been implemented a year ago, these teams could have contended in the postseason.

“With teams who are around .500, they’ve got some energy to keep playing,” Luthe said. “It used to be you knew if you had three losses, you kind of knew it was a tanking season. I think that would increase some energy for kids and keep them excited. I think it’s a great opportunity to get kids excited.”

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A 32-team playoff field decreases the chance for a pair of top-tier teams from one county to meet and knock the other out in a first or second round game.

“You always try to have the two best teams meet in the state final,” Miller said. “That’s tough to do because some years, on paper, the best two teams might be in the same region and a lot of times that’s the exception, not the rule.”

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