The South Carroll football team held their collective breath just before halftime of Friday night’s 2A/1A state quarterfinal contest against visiting Williamsport.
Cavaliers quarterback Ryan Barnard went down awkwardly and left the game with a wrist injury that left him questionable to return. It turned out, however, to be just a small speed bump in an otherwise dominating performance on both sides of the ball.
Barnard returned to the field after halftime to lead the offense — finishing the night with 282 yards through the air and three touchdown passes — and defensive back Noah Strzelczyk picked off a pair of passes to lead the defense, as South Carroll earned a convincing 27-7 victory. The team advances to the state semifinals for the first time since 2014.
Two of Barnard’s touchdown throws came in the second half as the Cavaliers put the game away.
“He’s a tough kid,” South Carroll head coach Mike Kraus said of Barnard. “He’s not going to fall out of this ride. He’s our leader. The kids follow his grit and his determination. We are going to keep riding this ride and see how far it takes us.”
Midway through the third quarter, Barnard found wideout Logan Miller for 10 yards over the middle to push the South Carroll lead to 21-7.
“I kind of just put all my faith in Ryan and my o-line blocking for him,” Miller said. “I run the route and let [Barnard] do all the work. I let him get me the ball.”
After an interception by Noah Strzelczyk gave the Cavaliers possession in Wildcats’ territory, a long run by junior AJ Rodrigues set South Carroll up inside the 10. On third down, Barnard cashed in with a 7-yard strike to Jackson Strzelczyk to put the Cavaliers up 27-7 and ice the victory.
South Carroll used an explosive passing attack to take the early edge. Barnard found Miller for 60 yards to set up the first Cavaliers’ score late in the first quarter. Rodrigues capped off the drive with a touchdown run for a 7-0 lead to start the second quarter.
“After practices, we stay and build that chemistry,” Barnard said of the relationship between he and Miller. “During the games I trust him. I throw the ball to him and he gets it done.”
The Wildcats responded with a big play of their own. Quarterback Brady Neff got loose on a third and long for a 49-yard run to tie the game at 7-7.
On its next drive, Williamsport looked poised to take the lead as it drove into South Carroll territory. Noah Strzelczyk turned the tide by stepping in front of a Neff pass for an interception to give the ball back to the Cavaliers.
“Coaches had a great gameplan,” Noah Strzelczyk said. “We just came out and executed. We work well together as a team and when we do, [we get] results like this.”
A few minutes later, Barnard gave the Cavaliers a lead they would not relinquish. Scrambling on second down at their own 21, the senior quarterback lofted a pass in the direction of Miller. The wideout hauled in the throw after it was tipped by a defender and raced 79 yards to the endzone for a 14-7 lead.
“[Miller] does a great job man,” Kraus said. “When he sees Ryan scrambling, he just heads down field and finds that great spot. I said to myself before the game started ‘We need [Miller] to make big plays’ and he really did.”
With the clock winding down in the second quarter, Barnard was tackled awkwardly after throwing an incompletion and stayed on the ground for several minutes. He eventually got up holding the wrist on his non-throwing hand and Carter Mazalewski took the remaining snaps in the half at quarterback.
After the game, Barnard said he just blocked out the pain and pushed through when he eventually returned to the field.
“I blocked it out,” Barnard said. “It was cold so that kind of helps. I can’t really feel it so I just bounced back.”
For Williamsport, it was a painful end to a historic season for the program. The Wildcats advanced further than any team in program history.
“Ending the season on a loss always hurts,” Williamsport head coach Tim Small said. “We couldn’t be more proud of where this team has gone this year. A lot of these seniors have started for us since they were freshmen or sophomores, so it is a culmination of a great career. [This class] had three winning seasons and as far as the program goes that has never been done before. That’s a good football team over there.”
For South Carroll, it is one step closer to a state championship. Next week, the Cavaliers will host a state semifinal game against Harford Tech — a 42-6 winner over Largo in its semifinal contest.
“We came in with the mindset — ‘Ride or go home,’” Barnard said. “We don’t want to go home, so we are going to keep the gas pedal down.”
South Carroll 27, Williamsport 7
SC – AJ Rodrigues 7-yard run (Ryan Barnard kick good)
W – Brady Neff 49-yard run (Cole Kriner kick good)
SC – Barnard 79-yard pass to Logan Miller (Barnard kick good)
SC – Barnard 10-yard pass to Miller (Barnard kick good)
SC – Barnard 7-yard pass to Jackson Strzelczyk (Conversion no good)
3A state quarterfinals
Northern 40, Westminster 7
The Owls (8-4) saw their seven-game winning streak snapped in the road contest. The seven points offensively tied a season low for Westminster.