Even in a pandemic, some things never change.
After South Carroll senior Nick Malone finished the game with a sack, he sprinted over to the Cavaliers sideline, jumping and screaming “Let’s go!” at his teammates. Several South Carroll players echoed him on the jubilant sideline.
Malone’s sack finished off a 21-3 win over Winters Mill, flipping the script from the team’s last matchup in October 2019. In that game, the Falcons scored with 17 seconds left to stun the Cavaliers, 21-17.
“It feels good to start off the season with a win,” Malone said. “Kind of something that we didn’t get to feel until the final week of last season. Kind of gets the momentum started for the rest of the year.”
According to South Carroll coach Mike Kraus, who’s now in his 21st season with the program, he was hoping to have a season because he has a solid junior and senior class. The Cavaliers struggled last season, finishing with a 1-8 record. Kraus didn’t want that to be his seniors last opportunity and was hoping they would get another chance.
“South Carroll’s been traditionally a pretty solid program and last year was a real struggle,” he said. “We had some injuries early in the season that we never recovered from. So to come out and get a win in game one in this shortened season in the county, we’re really excited. The guys we’re really excited and amped about playing. We’re hopeful that it’ll spark us the rest of the season.”
Although the game on the field looked the same, the atmosphere was different. The game took place at Western Regional Park in Woodbine, a turf field compared to the grass field at Winters Mill. Face coverings were required for anyone in attendance due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and only one parent per athlete could attend.
No one was allowed to sit in the stands, though on this night it was probably for the best. Temperatures were in the 30s, and the metal bleachers wouldn’t have kept people warm.
Winters Mill struck first, grinding out a 14-play drive that ended in a 26-yard field goal by Braxtyn Koch. South Carroll struggled to keep quarterback Cooper Maus in the pocket, and wasn’t expecting the Falcons to throw out of the backfield, which they did for three completed passes on the drive.
Maus drove the Winters Mill offense all night, throwing for 103 yards and running for 37.
The ensuing kickoff flipped the game. South Carroll senior Antonio Bradford caught the ball at his own 25-yard line, sprinted up field and didn’t stop until he reach the end zone for a 75-yard touchdown and an eventual 7-3 lead.
“It brought our team back,” Bradford said of his return. “And we just started playing way harder, faster and finished the game strong.”
Winters Mill didn’t find the answer on the next drive, with South Carroll senior Sean Hakanson intercepting an errant pass. That set up the Cavaliers’ longest drive of the night, though it didn’t result in points after back-to-back sacks drove them from the Winters Mill 22-yard line to the 47-yard line. Despite pinning Winters Mill at its own 5-yard line on the ensuing punt, the Falcons found life after a 36-yard scramble on by Maus. On the next play, South Carroll intercepted a pass to end the threat.
“I think we were opportunistic,” Kraus said. “The turnovers were a big asset in the game.”
The second half started the same way it ended for Winters Mill, with another interception. This time it was Bradford, who picked off a pass and ran it all the way back to the 7-yard line. Two plays later, Tommy Jaeger scored from 4 yards out to give South Carroll a 14-3 lead.
After that touchdown, the Cavaliers defense kept the pressure on. Winters Mill didn’t get a first down on its next three drives, and a fake punt gone wrong deep in its own territory led to a fumble recovery by Nick Malone for a touchdown.
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“That’s my first touchdown ever,” Malone said. “So it’s very exciting for my senior year first game.”
Both teams are back in action next week. South Carroll faces defending Carroll County Athletic League champion Westminster, while Winters Mill faces Francis Scott Key.
WM-Braxtyn Koch 26 field goal
SC-Antonio Bradford 75 kickoff return (kick good)
SC-Tommy Jaeger 4 run (kick good)
SC-Nick Malone 5 fumble return (kick good)