There’s always optimism when a new high school football season kicks off, but this year might be one of the more anticipated falls in some time.
Three teams made the playoffs in 2018, but that number figures to increase thanks to the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association’s expanding the regional postseason.
A host of players that made the Times’ all-county first team are back for 2019, including the reigning Player of the Year. Liberty comes into a new season riding a 13-game regular-season winning streak after the Lions went 10-0 last year and became the fifth team in Carroll history to craft a perfect regular season.
Now, the state is implementing nine-game regular seasons and adding one round of the playoffs. It all begins Friday. So here are three things to watch for football this fall:
The MPSSAA’s new playoff system
No longer is the postseason limited to the top four teams in each region across four classifications. Instead, the state expanded its playoffs from 64 to 128 teams — the top eight in each region based on the same points system as before.
Some of Carroll’s teams are on the move within the state’s new alignment for football. Manchester Valley and Westminster are in Class 3A East, with nine other teams from Howard County. Francis Scott Key heads to 1A North, along with 10 teams from Baltimore County.
Century, Liberty, South Carroll, and Winters Mill remain in 2A West.
The top eight teams from each region will be seeded, with the higher seeds hosting the first round. The state quarterfinals will then be re-seeded. The state finals are set for Dec. 5-7 at Navy-Marine Corps Stadium in Annapolis.
The increased number of playoff teams give hope to many teams that have come close in years past but failed to qualify. Liberty (10-0), Westminster (7-3), and Century (6-4) advanced to the regional playoffs last year. South Carroll (5-5) would have made it in 2018 under the new rules, with FSK (4-6) and Man Valley (3-7) likely in contention until the final week of the regular season.
Returning talent across the county
Seven players from last year’s all-county first team are returning — Liberty senior quarterback Nate Kent leads the crop after he threw for more than 1,500 yards and 22 touchdowns in 2018. Kent also ran for 648 yards (sixth best in Carroll) and scored 10 touchdowns, and he finished in a tie for first in the county in scoring (60 points).
Kent gets two first-team all-county linemen back in seniors McClain Butler and Kyle Hutchinson. Century has a returning all-county lineman as well in senior Andy Kristian, which helped the Knights run for more than 1,700 yards and pass for nearly 1,400.
Westminster senior Evan Warren is back, and the kicker is coming off a solid 2018. The Navy commit totaled 36 points on five field goals and 21 extra points.
Butler also earned first-team all-county honors at linebacker — he led Carroll with 123 tackles — while teammate Peyton Scheufele, a senior, landed on the first team at defensive line. Scheufele had 51 tackles, two pass break-ups, one interception, one forced fumble, and one fumble recovery.
South Carroll senior lineman Michael Crown (52 tackles) also earned first-team all-county honors in 2018.
Week 1 matchups set the tone
Four county teams start the 2019 season Friday night at home, with Liberty hosting Linganore, Century taking on Dundalk, Winters Mill hosting Fallston, and Westminster facing South River.
Linganore went 12-2 last season and reached the 3A state championship game. Dundalk finished 10-2 as a 3A North regional finalist. Fallston finished 0-9 in 2A East, and South River (7-5) played in the 4A East final.
South Carroll is at C. Milton Wright (4-6). The Cavaliers beat the Mustangs 20-13 at home in Week 2 of last season.
Manchester Valley travels to Williamsport (2-8) in its opener.
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Francis Scott Key was set to visit Mount Carmel at Eastern Regional Park in Week 1, but the game has been postponed. FSK now gets to host Poly on Friday night at 6.