A pair of Carroll County football teams, both relatively small in stature, are enjoying big success in the early season. Though undersized compared with many of their opponents, North Carroll and Century have used the spread offense to light up the scoreboard, combining to start the season 5-1.
That may not seem like much until you consider that the teams were a combined 25-55 over the past four years. North Carroll has posted just one winning season in 20 years.
"What we're trying to do is open the game up more offensively," said Panthers coach Jeff Oeming, who led North Carroll to a 6-4 record in 1986, during his first stint as coach. "By spreading the field out with four wide receivers ... we're trying to give players a chance to get the ball in open space and use their speed, quickness and athleticism."
The approach seems to be working.
Each team averaged nearly 30 points over their first two games, led by dual-threat quarterbacks in North Carroll senior Stefan Mitchell and Century junior Luke Wright.
Despite Thursday's loss to Frederick, Wright has rushed for 263 yards and three touchdowns, also throwing for four touchdowns and scoring another on a 90-yard punt return. Mitchell, meanwhile, has thrown for 523 yards and seven touchdowns, while rushing for an additional 82 yards.
Each has been complemented by talented running backs, including Erin Kunz and Zach Westfall for the Panthers, and Cory Anderlik and Greg Hilliard for Century. Hilliard suffered a low ankle sprain in the season opener and was expected to miss a couple weeks.
"The main concept behind it is to put your best two athletes in the backfield, and one of those two guys is always going to get the ball," said Century coach Tony Shermeyer, who installed the spread offense when he took over as head coach three years ago.
He said the key to the offense is Wright and his ability to bounce plays to the outside when the middle is clogged. Despite his 5-foot-8, 160-pound frame, the speedy Wright is drawing interest from several colleges, including Duke.
"Last year we were able to get the ball to Ryan Pentz [The Sun's All-County Offensive Player of the Year] a lot because he did a nice job of reading the holes," Shermeyer said. "This year, our best athlete and best runner just happens to be our quarterback, so we call a lot more plays with him in mind."
Both teams showed the early signs of success a year ago.
Century scored victories in three of its final four games, including a 15-14 win over North Carroll, to finish .500. The Panthers, meanwhile, finished 4-6, but lost three games by a total of 16 points.
"Then we finished with a win over Westminster, and that gave us good momentum going into the offseason," Oeming said. "The best feeling I have is that when I see our players in school, I can tell they have pride in our team."
Players of the week
For the second straight week, the Monocacy Valley Athletic League has honored Wright as its Offensive Player of the Week in the Blue Ridge Conference.
In a 22-7 win over Walkersville, the quarterback accounted for all three of his team's touchdowns - one rushing, one passing and another on a 90-yard punt return. He finished with 90 yards rushing on 18 carries.
Century linebacker Anderlik took top honors on defense, finishing that game with 12 tackles, including three for a loss. He also caused and recovered a fumble, and had an interception.
Another local player, North Carroll's Zach Westfall, took top honors among offensive players in the Chesapeake Conference. In a 21-14 win over Francis Scott Key, the junior wide receiver scored on a 92-yard kickoff return, a 37-yard touchdown reception from quarterback Stefan Mitchell and a 3-yard run that gave the Panthers the lead for good in the third quarter.
North Carroll soccer sweeper Cody Ditzel is recovering after suffering what could be a season-ending concussion Tuesday against Liberty. Battling for a loose ball late in the game, the senior - one of two returning starters for last year's Class 3A state finalists - took an awkward fall and remained down.
Though he remained conscious and never lost feeling in his extremities, he was placed in a neck brace and transported by helicopter to the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center. He was released Wednesday.
"I think he's done for the year," North Carroll coach Denny Snyder said. "He's had some issues in the past along the same line [with concussions] ... and I don't know if he'll be back on the soccer field this year. That's going to be a family decision."
The game was suspended with nine minutes remaining and Liberty leading, 2-0.
It marked the second time in Ditzel's career that he had to be airlifted from a game, after a similar incident happened in indoor soccer.
To submit news and story ideas about Carroll County high school athletics, contact Rich Scherr at CarrollSports@comcast.net.