ELDERSBURG — Westminster came into Friday night's matchup against Liberty in a familiar situation, a game that would be for first place in the county standings.
The visiting Owls started slow on offense, but thanks to a stifling defense they routed the Lions 44-7.
Liberty received the opening kickoff before a filled stadium for its Homecoming tilt with the Owls. The Lions moved the ball effectively, but were stopped on a key fourth-down run at the Westminster 23-yard line.
That was the story for the first half, as the Owls (6-1, 4-0 county) stopped Liberty whenever the Lions gained any offensive momentum.
Westminster's defense was even responsible for the first points of the game late in the opening quarter. Liberty quarterback Nolan Karfonta dropped back to pass, but it was intercepted by Tavian Montgomery and Montgomery raced 35 yards into the end zone.
"Every game is different and we put in a really hard week of practice … and if our defensive line doesn't get push and we don't cover the right receivers then that interception never happens," Montgomery said. "We took it as a disrespectful thing — you usually choose a cake team to play for Homecoming and they chose us so that really fired us up."
The high energy showed as the Owls limited Karfonta to 32 yards passing in slighty less than three quarters of play. The Lions (5-2, 2-1) found some success on the ground as Karfonta gained a team-high 73 rushing yards, but Westminster came up with stops in every big situation.
The Owls needed a strong start from their defense as the offense ran just six offensive plays in the first quarter. But after Montgomery scored, Westminster started breaking off big gains. Christian Etchison threw for 193 yards and three touchdowns, the first of which came nearly halfway through the second quarter.
Etchison found Zane Lewis about 10 yards over the middle , nd Lewis broke to the outside and finished off a 69-yard score. Lewis hauled in four passes for a game-high 117 yards.
After the initial score, Etchison found a rhythm and started to work the Owls down the field consistently.
With just 1 minute, 7 seconds remaining in the first half Etchison connected down the right sideline with Roman Hawkins for a 32-yard score that put Westminster up 24-0, completing a quarter in which Westminster outscored the Lions 17-0 and pulled away.
"We were a little slow to start, I'm not going to make excuses and a little bit of it was on me," Etchison said. "It's the best feeling when you know things start clicking, when you know you are going to do well … I love throwing short routes and watching [Lewis] run and Roman's catch in the back of the end zone was incredible."
Westminster later hauled in another interception, and recovered three fumbles — one of those was a Noah Buttiglieri pick-up in the end zone for a score — as it won the turnover battle five to zero, helping to seal a big road victory.
"We tell these guys that you have to do your job … and they feed off of each other and push each other and it's constant competition at practice," Owls coach Matt Study said. "We have playmakers all over the place and at some point somebody's going to get loose and it's just a matter of time … our game plan was to get some of those one on one matchups and get Liberty to go into man-to-man coverage."
Liberty got on the scoreboard late in the fourth quarter, but the game was long decided as the Lions suffered their first county loss. Despite a strong start running the ball, the Lions couldn't finish off any drives and the Owls capitalized on every mistake.
Westminster 7 17 13 7 — 44
Liberty 0 0 0 7 — 7
W-Tavian Montgomery 35 interception return (Evan Warren kick)
W-Warren 37 field goal
W-Zane Lewis 69 pass from Christian Etchison (Warren kick)
W-Roman Hawkins 32 pass from Etchison (Warren kick)
W-Logan Nave 11 pass from Etchison (conversion failed)
W-Noah Buttiglieri 0 fumble recovery (Warren kick)
W-Chase Birdow 11 pass from Nathan Kent (Warren kick)
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L-Chris Darminio 20 pass from Tyler Magruder (Sean Disbrow kick)