For the first time in more than a decade, Frederick County was nearly wiped out in the first round of the high school football playoffs.
But Walkersville (9-2) rallied for a 26-14 victory in Columbia over Oakland Mills, sparing the county the indignity of not having a regional finalist for the first time since the playoffs expanded in 2003.
Linganore (10-1), Oakdale (8-3) and St. John’s-Catholic Prep (9-1-1) were all beaten last weekend. After a furious comeback, Linganore fell to visiting Seneca Valley, 30-27, in a game that ended in controversial fashion. Oakdale was soundly beaten by unbeaten Damascus, perhaps the best public-school team, and St. John’s-Catholic Prep, somewhat surprisingly, fell to Annapolis Christian, 20-14, Saturday in the MIAA C Conference championship game at Archbishop Spalding in Baltimore.
Taking them one at a time, let’s start with the good news and Walkersville. The Lions found themselves in an eight-point hole at top-seeded Oakland Mills in the first round of the Class 2A West playoffs. But thanks, in large part, to a pair of fumbles by Oakland Mills over a four-minute stretch of the second half and a 91-yard touchdown run by sophomore Jacob Wetzel, Walkersville strung together 20 unanswered points and surged to their first playoff victory since 2012. The Lions have a formidable test in Friday night’s regional championship game at once-beaten South Carroll (10-1). The Cavaliers are the defending regional champions, have a pair of Division I recruits, and possess a really stingy defense that has only allowed 20 points over the last eight weeks. Walkersville will likely have to play its best game of the season to reach its first state semifinal since 1992.
Linganore, meanwhile, thought it had produced another comeback for the ages against Seneca Valley. But the officials said the whistle blew the final play dead before senior Josh Faulconer stripped the ball out and returned the fumble for a potential game-winning touchdown. The accuracy of the call is really based on who you ask. The Linganore coaches, players and fans will swear to their graves that Faulconer’s touchdown should have counted and the Lancers should be playing for the Class 3A West championship this week. Seneca Valley, on the other hand, will always insist that the forward progress of quarterback Petey Gaskins was stopped prior to the ball being ripped loose, and the whistle was blown to properly call the play dead. Without the replay technology of television, it will be impossible to know for sure. The bottom line is: Linganore fell into a 24-0 hole. They need a furious rally to get out of it. Seneca Valley was the better team for most of the game. And neither team was likely to beat Damascus in the regional championship game.
Oakdale found out just how good the Swarmin’ Hornets and their dynamic senior running back, Jake Funk, are last week. In just three quarters, Funk amassed 301 rushing yards and matched his own school record with six touchdowns in a single game, as Damascus rolled to a 44-21 victory. After playing good defense for most of the season, the Bears gave up 30 and 44 points in back-to-back losses to close the season. There will be plenty of lessons to be taken away it, as the quest continues for the first playoff win in school history. Oakdale, perhaps, had the most talent of any team in the county. But the Bears consistently undermined themselves with self-inflicted mistakes, namely turnovers. That’s what cost them a big home win over Linganore in the middle of the season and hurt them badly in the consecutive losses to Tuscarora and Damascus at the end.
Finally, St. John’s Catholic Prep was denied its second MIAA C championship in three seasons with its eye-opening loss to Annapolis Christian in the title game. The teams had played to a tie in Annapolis in the season opener before the Vikings prevailed, 28-18, in a Oct. 9 game at McCurdy Field. St. John’s jumped out to an early 14-point lead in the championship game. But then Annapolis Christian found a way to contain senior quarterback Bryce Johnson and rattled off 20 unanswered points to earn the win. The loss denied St. John’s its first unbeaten season in school history, as well as a signature sendoff for Johnson, who was a four-year starter and school record holder at quarterback.