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Football: Century, Liberty open playoffs against Frederick County foes

Carroll has two football teams in action tonight as the regional playoffs kick off, and each squad faces a Frederick County foe in its quest to stay alive in the postseason.

County champion Liberty (9-1) enters the Class 2A West Region semifinals after a convincing 38-0 shutout over rival Century last week. The win gave the Lions their first outright county title since 2000 and they also regained ownership of the Freedom Bell.

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Coach Larry Luthe's squad missed a playoff berth in 2015, but advanced to the 2A West final in 2014 before falling to South Carroll at home. When Middletown visits Eldersburg tonight, the Lions will get a chance to redeem themselves on their home field.

"You always want to play in front of your home crowd," Luthe said. "Carroll County has struggled against Frederick County in the playoffs so we'd much rather have them come to us and have the home crowd in our favor and in our stands. We can feed off that energy and it should help us play up to the next level to be successful."

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The Lions are 0-8 all time against the Knights, and they have not played each other since 2008 (Liberty lost 14-7).

"It's been so long since we've played them and they have a whole new group of players as do we," Luthe said. "Our coaching staff has to make sure our kids understand how to compete against this team. They're another great team with great players and we are too — we wouldn't be where we were if we didn't have good football players."

This season has been a memorable one for Luthe, his staff, and his players. The Lions are on an eight-game winning streak, and have shutouts in three of their last four games.

"The defense takes a lot of pride in what they do," Luthe said. "They're smart, they're good sports. Coach [Will] Bristol has done a great job of getting these kids to believe and compete for each other. They really believe that they have shown they're an excellent defense. They play with a passion that works with them buying into what we've been trying to do as a staff in leading those kids to play well defensively."

Liberty shut out Century 38-0 and captured its first outright county title since 2000. In 2001, the Lions split the title with South Carroll and Westminster.

Senior quarterback Ben Agostino, one of Liberty's leaders, paces the Lions' offense with 1,461 passing yards and 13 touchdowns. Agostino has also rushed 50 times for 176 yards and eight touchdowns. Blaine Roach, Corey Luthe, Noah Rohrer, and Spencer Kirin have contributed effectively to the Liberty offense as well.

Kirin, a senior linebacker, leads the Lions with 85 tackles and five interceptions on defense.

"I think they're very resilient in how they've handled every challenge as it comes," Luthe said. "They never give up and have really enjoyed playing alongside one another, for each other and it's just a joy watching them. I think there's a lot to be said about these senior leaders that have truly stepped up.

"These guys love practice and the preseason preparation, their joy has inspired some of the kids on the fence to love the game as a whole."

Middletown's ground game features tailback Brandon Jones and quarterback Matt Evich, who have 1,312 yards and 22 touchdowns combined. Jones leads the Knights with 893 and 12.

Kyle Klink has five sacks on defense for Middletown.

The Knights (8-1, 4-0 county) secured a playoff spot for the first time since 2009 and coach Jim Holzman said that sweetened the victory.

Century (8-2) faces a challenge when the Knights travel to unbeaten Walkersville tonight. The Knights earned their first playoff berth since 2009 after a thrilling 34-31 overtime victory at South Carroll on Oct. 28.

The Knights won eight straight games after suffering a loss in Week 1 against Parkville, but increasing that streak to nine games was cut short last week in the season finale against Liberty.

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"It was a tough loss, not only in the county championship, but with a major rival," Knights coach Jim Holzman said. "We're just trying to learn from it and move past it. It took a practice or two to get past it and now we're focused on Walkersville. It's a big task at hand and they've been successful, but we've been able to make a lot of big plays this year.

"We'll try to learn from the loss but remember we've won eight games in doing what we do best. We'll go back to doing what we've done all year and try to perfect it."

Walkersville and Century have met four times before and the Lions have won the last two meetings, most recently in back-to-back contests (2007, 2008).

The Lions feature Chad Gleason, who had 949 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns to lead the Lions.

Walkersville's defense is led by Christian Policelli's 88 tackles, and he also has two interceptions.

Senior Anthony Perrone holds Century's all-time record for receptions (90) and interceptions (nine).

Perrone ranks among Carroll's receiving leaders with 37 receptions for 539 yards and three touchdowns. Teammate and fellow receiver Bryce Harrell has caught 39 passes for 614 yards and five touchdowns.

Junior quarterback Collin Ende is second among Carroll's passing leaders with for 1,552 yards and 18 touchdowns. Junior running back Stephen Shinholt leads the Knights with 979 yards and 10 touchdowns.

"Winning eight games in a row is pretty good and we've been pretty diverse on offense with spreading the ball around a bit," Holzman said. "We've been attacking and being aggressive on defense, versatile on offense, and it's one of the reasons we've been so successful this year."

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