Carroll football fans haven't had to travel very far to catch a playoff game this fall. And that holds true for another week.
South Carroll and Manchester Valley both host regional finals tonight, looking to capture a region crown and earn its spot in the state tournament next week. The Cavaliers and Mavericks were both the top seeds in their respective regions, earning them the right to avoid travel through the first two weeks of the postseason.
"Having another home game is a big deal the further we go on the playoffs," SC senior lineman Steven Stockslager said. "Our student section this year is awesome, they come out and support us every single game. Fortunate enough, we've been doing real well at home and knowing that we're at home, we're not going to let someone come in and beat us on our own field."
Last week, South Carroll beat Marriotts Ridge at Parker Field, 21-0, to advance to the Class 2A West Region final for the third straight year. Last season, the Cavs were the regional champs and advanced to play Douglass the following week in the state semifinals.
They'll look to get back to that point again this year, but will have to beat Walkersville in order to do so.
The Lions (9-2) have a balanced rushing attack, led by Chad Gleason (1,193 yards, 13 touchdowns) and Jacob Wetzel (792 yards and eight touchdowns). Walkersville has four players with at least 449 yards on the ground.
"This team's a power running team and we've just got to look to stop their run game and force them to pass, which is something that they don't like to do," Stockslager said. "We've got to be big up front and we have to be physical."
The Cavaliers (10-1) have a potent rushing attack of their own. Steven Baca became the first Carroll player to eclipse 1,000 yards last week. He has 1,086 yards on the ground and a county-best 17 touchdowns.
SC also got a rushing touchdown from Jamar Williams in last week's win. The junior has 495 yards and eight rushing touchdowns, while averaging 11.8 yards per carry.
This week may not be the Cavaliers' last game on their home field, should they get past Walkersville. Depending on how the other 2A playoff matchups go this week, SC could be hosting a state semifinal game next Friday.
Manchester Valley (7-4) used a strong ground game to beat rival North Carroll last week. Ethan Bare eclipsed 100 yards, pushing his season total to 907, and scored his 12th touchdown of the season.
The Mavs will be without Myers Smith, the county's leading receiver on offense and interceptions leader on defense, for the second straight week. However, MV has back two-way senior lineman Parker Reitz, who returned in the last week of the regular season.
"He's a solid presence both on the offensive and defensive line," said Mavs coach Tony Shermeyer, whose team won its first ever playoff game on its home field last week.
For Manchester Valley, this will be the last home game it will have this season. The Mavericks had the lowest point total of the remaining 1A playoff games, and a long road trip to Fort Hill seems likely if the Mavericks beat Forestville (6-5) this week.
But for now, MV will enjoy the home-field advantage for one more game, when it looks to make the program's first trip to the state tournament.
"It makes us play harder and we do better," Mavs junior receiver James Walsh said. "We're emphasizing more on the running game because it's harder to throw in colder weather and it hurts more to tackle Ethan when it's cold."
Even though Walsh spent most of the season lined up at receiver, he found himself involved more in the running game last week. He carried the ball 18 times for 40 yards.
At times, the Mavericks abandoned their traditional shotgun formation and went to an I-formation. Quarterback Jake Gerber was under center with Bare lined up at fullback and Walsh set as the tailback.
It's just another way that Man Valley focused more on the running game, which Shermeyer agreed is important to rely on at this point in the season.
"In the playoffs, you've got to play solid defense and have a good run game, and anything you get through the pass game is a bonus," Shermeyer said. "Good teams that have won championships in years past, usually it's that same type of formula."
Class 1A North
Who: Forestville (6-5) at Manchester Valley (7-4)
What: Regional final
When: 7 p.m.
How the Mavs got here: The Mavericks beat North Carroll 16-0 in the regional semifinal last week, scoring 10 points in the final 3:23 to seal the win. Ethan Bare and Jake Gerber both had rushing touchdowns to lead MV. The Mavs' defense notched their fourth shutout of the season and ended a skid of three losses in four weeks.
How the Knights got here: Forestville topped Fairmont Heights 22-12 in last week's regional semifinal, its first playoff win since 2006. They had lost in the regional semifinals in seven of the last eight years. The Knights have won four of their last five games after opening the year 2-4. In their last four wins, Forestville has allowed just 18 total points.
All-time series: Forestville, 2-0.
Class 2A West
Who: Walkersville (9-2) at South Carroll (10-1)
What: Regional final
Where: Parker Field in Winfield
When: 7 p.m.
How the Cavs got here: SC notched its fifth shutout win of the year with a 21-0 victory over Marriotts Ridge in the regional semifinal last week. The Cavs are allowing just 6.6 points per game, while also scoring 20 or more points in every game this season. Steven Baca scored his county-best 17th touchdown of the year in last week's win.
How the Lions got here: The Lions upset top-seeded Oakland Mills with a 26-14 win in last week's regional semifinal. The Lions' only two losses this year came against Linganore and Oakdale, two teams that made the Class 3A playoffs. Walkersville has won four in a row. The Lions rely on a balanced rushing attack, with four players running for more than 400 yards so far this year.