Two local teams were recently putting the final touches on preparations for this weekend's Carroll County Youth Football League Super Bowl.
The teams and their assistants were pouring over films for the final time, hoping to pick up something they missed that might give their kids the edge. Their players made sure they could recall all the nuts and bolts of their offensive and defensive plays — and perhaps that new wrinkle or two their coaches had thrown in to surprise this weekend's opponents.
And two head coaches talked about their chances of winning.
For the Westminster Wildcats, the Super Bowl against Damascus was a whole new experience — like a trip to Mars, or maybe even Jupiter.
Before this year, they had never won a postseason football game much less gone to a Super Bowl. Even this year, the Wildcats were only 5-4 in the 11-13 Freedom Division before winning two playoff games.
North Carroll's team is entirely different. The Titans played in last year's 6-8 Super Bowl and cruised to a 9-0 record in the 7-9 Freedom Division this season. After a first-round bye, they topped Olney, 27-6 to qualify.
Westminster's core was back this season. With 14 of 18 players returning, its brand new coaching staff hoped it could find a winning formula. The staff, headed by Jason Bainbridge, also included defensive coach Scott Stranko along with Chad Vogel and Steve Heck.
Bainbridge felt he had some choice nuggets.
"We had two good lines and some skills players. I thought we could be competitive and get somewhere in the playoffs," Bainbridge said.
However, they had to win games first, and things didn't start out well at all.
Clarksburg romped the Wildcats 32-16 in the season's opening game. Then Sykesville jumped on them for two first-half touchdowns in game two to put them in a deep hole. But then things started to change.
Westminster's defense shut out the Raiders in the second half. While it still lost, the score was a not-too-bad 14-6. The third game saw the real change and turnaround; Westminster beat Arbutus 16-0.
"The second half of the Sykesville game got us feeling better. The combination of the second and third game got us feeling really good for the kids," Bainbridge said.
The Wildcats won four of their final six regular-season games.
"The biggest thing for us was finding out what the best combination was. We moved people around. It was also a matter of getting to know the kids a little bit and who was comfortable in different positions," he said.
He noted that his kids had moved the ball well in their earlier game against Damascus, but turnovers hurt them.
"We can't do that if we want to win," he concluded.
Meanwhile, up in North Carroll, Titans head coach Tom Seiss talked about his younger troops' chances. Like Westminster, North Carroll's team from last year is pretty much intact; 13 of 17 are back.
"We've jelled a lot better than last year. The (four) new kids have really helped," Seiss said.
While Westminster had a crucial turnaround point early this season, North Carroll's road to the Super Bowl has been straight and smooth with nary a bump. In its first six games, it had three shutouts; it gave up only six points in each of the other three. It had its toughest game on Oct. 8 when it faced Montgomery County.
"We dominated, but then they came back in the end. But we still won 18-15," Seiss said.
North Carroll then closed out its season with two easy wins.
It finished 9-0 and led the league with 219 points. The Titans finished second by a point on defense, giving up 39 points. Montgomery allowed 38.
"We moved some of our better defensive players to the middle this year so they could cover the whole field easier. We moved some others to the outside," Seiss said, explaining some defensive changes that helped his team win.
On offense, the team has both depth and versatility, Seiss said.
"We can do a lot on offense by switching kids around. There are four or five of them who can play any of the skill positions. A lot of the teams have only a guy or two; we have better depth," Seiss said.
The coach says he will need everybody at top speed because the Super Bowl is a rematch with Montgomery County. Defense will be the big key.
"We'll have to shut down their running game and control their running backs." the coach said.
"Offensively, we out-match them in certain spots. But we'll have to take their top defender out of the plays."
However, Seiss says he has a very good core that has been together three years now. He felt confident about his chances in this weekend's test.
"I have a pretty good feeling like we'll make it," he said.