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Football: Liberty, Westminster prepared for ‘great football game,’ battle for Carroll County championship

Liberty running back Nick Hinton runs the ball during the second half of the Lions' 41-0 win over the Cavaliers in Winfield Friday, Oct. 18, 2019.
Liberty running back Nick Hinton runs the ball during the second half of the Lions' 41-0 win over the Cavaliers in Winfield Friday, Oct. 18, 2019.(Dylan Slagle/Carroll County TImes)

McClain Butler said Liberty’s 34-9 defeat of crosstown rival Century in Week 3 was a turning point for the Lions’ football season.

The reigning Carroll County Athletic League champions were 0-2 to start the year after losses against powerhouses Linganore and Walkersville, but Butler said the team’s chemistry fell into place after defeating the Knights. The Lions are 5-0 since then, and have outscored those five opponents 176-45 leading up to an anticipated Week 8 clash with Westminster (5-2, 4-0 CCAL) that will determine the county champion.

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Butler, a senior linebacker, said he was interviewed by a local news station prior to Liberty facing the Owls in 2018, and he predicted a Lions win. Liberty won 28-20.

“I’m excited,” Butler said. “Two years ago, they came to our house and beat us on our Homecoming and I said last year we’re going to go to their house and beat them on their Homecoming, which is exactly what we did. ... Beating Westminster is always a challenge, always one of the hardest weeks of the season, and it’s always something to look forward to.”

Nate Kent, the Lions’ senior quarterback, transferred from Westminster before his junior year and led the Lions to their first undefeated regular season in program history en route to being named Times Football Player of the Year.

Kent has thrown for 1,109 yards and 11 touchdowns this fall, and also leads the team in rushing with 593 yards and six touchdowns. Sophomore running back Tommy Nelson is second with 506 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground.

Receivers Michael Spitz and Peyton Scheufele lead the team with 28 and 21 receptions, respectively. Spitz has caught three touchdown passes for 432 yards, and Scheufele has three TDs for 316 yards.

“I think we’ve definitely improved a lot, over the summer and coming in Week 1,” Scheufele said. “Obviously Linganore was a very good team and it was going to be tough because they have numbers on us in Frederick County but we really improved, and we want to keep improving so that maybe we see Walkersville again in the playoffs, beat them, and win a state championship like we want to.”

Butler leads the county with 93 tackles on defense, and Spitz leads the team (4-0 CCAL) with three interceptions.

“We want to show the county who we are,” Butler added. “We’re not a bad team just because we lost to two elite teams in the state. We’re still here, we’re still in the county, and we’re still a state-contending team.

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“It’s good to get that out there with the Century game and the past few weeks with the other county games we’ve been winning.”

The rest of Carroll’s teams are also in action Friday for Week 8 contests.

Century (4-3, 3-2 CCAL) visits South Carroll (0-7, 0-5), with the Knights going for their fourth straight win in their all-time series. The Cavaliers won seven in a row against Century from 2009-15.

Manchester Valley (4-3, 1-3) looks to stop a three-game skid in hosting Winters Mill (4-3, 2-2). It’s the 11th meeting between the rivals, with the Falcons enjoying a 6-4 advantage and three straight wins.

Francis Scott Key (2-5) is on the road to take on Smithsburg — the Eagles’ first matchup with the Leopards since 2002.

Westminster leads its all-time series against Liberty 24-6, and the Owls won six straight meetings prior to 2018. The Owls dropped their first two games, this season against South River and Linganore, but enter Friday’s game on a five-game win streak that includes three straight shutouts over Manchester Valley, Francis Scott Key, and Century.

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“I think where we really came together was the Glenelg game,” said Owls first-year coach Chris Bassler, referring to Westminster’s 36-29 win over the Gladiators on Sept. 27 at Ruby Field.

“We had to come back in the fourth quarter to beat a good football team and that game really gave us a lot of confidence and the believe that, ‘Hey, if we do the right things and play good, fundamental football, we can have a lot of success.’“

The Owls have outscored their previous five opponents 180-42, with the help of a strong offense paced by running back Erick Stranko. The junior has 657 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns, also leads the Owls with 58 tackles on defense at linebacker.

Nate Mattingly and Ben Flowers equally contribute on the ground — Mattingly has 394 yards and three touchdowns, and Flowers has rushed the ball 29 times for 394 yards and four TDs.

Junior quarterback Jalen Bradford has thrown for 640 yards and two touchdowns, and Ethan Zepp’s 57.5 tackles is second among the team’s defense.

“I think it’s nice to be playing in a big game like this at the end of the year,” Bassler said. “We have a ton of respect for Liberty, their players, and their coaching staff. We just feel like it’s going to be a great football game and we’re just hoping to hold up our end of it.”

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