Football: Liberty, Westminster hitting road for state quarterfinals

Liberty quarterback Nate Kent releases a pass over Westminster's Jack Conrad (58) resulting in a touchdown during a football game at Liberty High School on Friday, October 25.
Liberty quarterback Nate Kent releases a pass over Westminster's Jack Conrad (58) resulting in a touchdown during a football game at Liberty High School on Friday, October 25. (Brian Krista/Carroll County Times)

Carroll County entered Week 11 with three teams still alive in the postseason, but two of those teams advanced to survive another week.

Liberty and Westminster both came out victorious, and the squads were re-seeded for the state quarterfinals to set up a pair of fresh matchups in their classifications this Friday.


The Lions (8-3) defeated Glenelg, the 2018 2A state finalist, to capture their third playoff victory in program history with a 35-28 edge. The Lions won their first postseason game in 2014, but lost in the first round in their last three previous appearances.

A victory over Oakland Mills in the first round set up the tough contest with the Gladiators, but the Lions used their weapons to move on and set up a 2A state quarterfinal at Elkton (11-0) on Friday at 7 p.m.

“At this point, any win is a good win because you’re playing top teams across the state,” Liberty coach Larry Luthe said. “It’s good to be out here and you’re not going to change everything, but you just hope you get better at executing every day. We feel like if we do that, we’ll have a chance against Elkton, so that’s what we’re shooting for.”

Senior quarterback Nate Kent threw for 270 yards and rushed for 86 yards for the Lions. He threw three touchdown passes — two to senior Peyton Scheufele and one to sophomore Tommy Nelson — and rushed for another score.

Kent has 2,064 passing yards and 22 touchdowns this season, a county best, and he leads the Lions with 826 rushing yards and nine TDs. Nelson has compiled 799 yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground this season; he rushed for 120 yards and a touchdown against the Gladiators.

Senior receiver Michael Spitz is the county’s receptions leader with 51 catches for 813 yards and six touchdowns, while senior linebacker McClain Butler leads the county with 147.5 tackles on defense.

Paul Libbee was Liberty’s third leading receiver going into last week’s Class 2A West playoff game against Glenelg.

Westminster travels to Mervo in Baltimore City for a 3A state quarterfinal game Friday at 7 p.m.

The Owls (9-2) have won nine straight games and the team’s defense registered three straight shutouts in Octobert against county opponents Manchester Valley, Francis Scott Key, and Century. They routed Long Reach 47-28 in the first round of playoffs and got past Marriotts Ridge 16-7 last week to set up this week’s contest at Mervo.

Junior running back Erick Stranko leads the county with 19 touchdowns on 1,229 rushing yards this fall, and he also leads the Owls with 105 tackles on defense. Senior running back Nate Mattingly is the county’s third leading scorer with 12 touchdowns and has 724 yards on the ground.

Stranko helps lead a dynamic Owls’ defense, along with seniors Ethan Zepp (98 tackles), Matt Annulis (66.5 tackles), and Jack Conrad (51.5 tackles).

“With the way we’ve tried to play defense and offense this year is talking about trying to reestablish this program as not just dominant, but physically dominant,” Owls first-year coach Chris Bassler said. “We are going to win or lose games at the line of scrimmage and I think we’ve done a great job of that.

“It’s going to be a tough test for us this Friday but we’re going to stick to what we do and we think it will be good enough, but we’ll find out.”

The Owls (9-2) have not lost since dropping their first two games of the season, and much of that can be attributed to a defense led by junior Erick Stranko and seniors Ethan Zepp, Matt Annulis, Haden Hoff, Jack Conrad and Tre Price.

Mervo (11-0) reached the 4A state semifinals in 2018, and the Mustangs are making their ninth appearance in the playoffs.

South Carroll and Westminster are the only Carroll teams to ever advance to a state title game. The Cavaliers and Owls played in state championship games on the same day in 2005, but both teams came up short. The Cavaliers have the most semifinal appearances with six (1980, 1983, 2003, 2005, 2007, and 2014), and the Owls have four (1976, 1981, 2005, 2012).


North Carroll reached the semifinals in 1978.

The Owls advanced to the state final in 1976 as the first Carroll team to do so. Century earned a spot in the state semifinals in 2008, and SC is the last Carroll squad to advance as far as the semifinals.

Winners of this weekend’s state quarterfinals move onto the final four Nov. 29-30, with the championship games set for Dec. 5-7 at Navy-Marine Corps Stadium in Annapolis.