Westminster Owls: Carroll County Football Preview 2012

Home Turf: 1225 Washington Road, Westminster

Head Coach: Brad Wilson (ninth season)

2011 Record: 8-2 overall; 6-1 county (Carroll County champions)

In 2011, Westminster won its first county title in six years by dominating Carroll opponents. The Owls beat their seven county foes by an average score of 41-5, and Carroll's best defense in recent memory posted three shutouts.

But the Owls' forfeit of a 57-7 win over Manchester Valley for using an ineligible player dropped Westminster's record to 8-2 — and cost the county's best team a berth in the Class 4A North Region playoffs.

Don't expect the Owls to look back. The 2012 team is loaded with talent, and should be a strong contender for not only a second straight county title but also its first playoff berth since 2008.

"The pieces are there," said head coach Brad Wilson, entering his ninth year at the helm. "We're in a good place. We've found two systems, offensively and defensively, that fit our kids. In the last two or three years, we've gotten to the point where the difference between our various groups of players has closed. That's what is making us better."

Nine starters return on offense, including three who were among the county's top receivers in 2011. Garrett Bean averaged nearly 20 yards on 30 catches, including 10 for touchdowns. Dan Johnson and Darius Clifton combined for 41 catches, and Clifton's 20.6-yard per-catch average was second in the county.

Seniors Dallas Ducote and Bradley Metcalf should also get their share of catches in an offense that throws the ball frequently. Johnson managed 378 yards on the ground, good for 10th in the county last fall. The Owls also return four starting offensive linemen, led by senior tackle Drew Titus.

Getting the ball to this offensive contingent will be the job of Derek Kern. The senior quarterback saw plenty of game action behind graduated signal-caller Romie Cheese, who threw for a county-leading 1,625 yards and 24 touchdowns in 2011.

"Derek would have started for most of the other teams in the county last year," Wilson said. "Derek's a very good athlete who moves and throws well."

The Westminster defense lost several valuable cogs, including leading tacklers Nate VanderWoude, Dan Bartley, Dan Carder and Chad Diehl. The Owls will also be hurt by the loss of defensive back C.J. Nichols, who tore knee ligaments during the 2012 lacrosse season.

But six starters return to a unit that allowed more than seven points just three times last season, including cornerbacks Brandon Somerville and Jimmy Lauer, linebackers John Morrissey, Dan Johnson and Brian Young, and lineman Travis Kessler.

"Defensively, I expect the same result," Wilson said. "We lost some good football players, but we also have a lot back."

The Owls' schedule features a few changes from past years. While traditional Frederick County rivals Tuscarora, Urbana and Linganore lead off the slate, Westminster won't play Manchester Valley and North Carroll. The Owls replaced the county's Class 1A schools with Martinsburg (W.Va.) and Leonardtown, from St. Mary's County.

Martinsburg, a Class 3A school, is a perennial contender for the West Virginia state championship. While not among the elite programs in Maryland, Leonardtown is a Class 4A opponent. Victories over Martinsburg and Leonardtown would help Westminster pick up more playoff points than triumphs over small schools in the lowest state classification — such as Manchester Valley and North Carroll.

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