On Friday night, the entire dynamic of this coming week’s Middletown-Linganore showdown changed dramatically.
Yes, the Knights and Lancers each rolled to 8-0, Middletown with a 49-14 win at Thomas Johnson on the strength of 30 unanswered points and Linganore with an it-was-never-close, 42-7 victory at Tuscarora. Yes, the Knights will be playing at home, which gives them an edge.
But the Lancers will be bringing their well-rounded team and, now, running back Phillip Butler with them.
Butler was the Offensive Player of the Year in Washington County in 2011. During that season, he accounted for more than 2,000 all-purpose yards and 26 touchdowns. He set numerous records for North Hagerstown High School’s team. He eventually ran into legal trouble and left the school. Only recently has he enrolled at Linganore and joined the football team.
In the game at Tuscarora, Butler made his debut for the Lancers and rushed for 94 yards and two touchdowns. He had another 75-yard touchdown run called back because of a penalty. His presence gives Linganore four running backs that most high school teams would love to have in Derek Wilson, Justin Cooney, Butler and his younger brother, Donte. That’s in addition to receiver Josh Gontarek, who is one of the best in the state. That’s in addition to Clark Stieren, who is a very capable quarterback in terms of running and throwing. That’s in addition to massive offensive and defensive lines. That in addition to having one of the area’s best linebackers in Mike Pirolli.
Simply put, an already loaded Linganore team is even more so today than it was last week. But Middletown doesn’t exactly lack size, strength, talent, experience or confidence either, especially with two Division I recruits, Ricky Leonard (Florida State) and Justin Falcinelli (Clemson), along the defensive line. You don’t exactly win 30 consecutive games by accident.
That’s what makes this game so fascinating. It’s the team with easily the most talent, on paper, in the county versus the county’s model program that just never loses.
Can the Knights slow down Linganore’s vaunted rushing attack? Middletown has already proven it can at least slow down the best running back in the county this season, limiting Urbana’s Ray Gray to 123 hard-earned yards and a touchdown on 31 carries. But that was only one player. Can the Knights stop four, presumably fresher backs who are all very capable? Can they stop Stieren and Gontarek from making big plays in the passing game? Can Linganore stop they myriad of ways Middletown can beat you on offense? Can the Lancers pull out a game that is presumably going to be close and hard-fought? They have not played many close games or been tested that much this season?
The answers to all of these questions will likely determine the outcome of a game that’s as anticipated as any in recent memory in the county, including all of the Middletown-Walkersville games over the last two seasons and the Middletown-Urbana game this season.
Urbana (7-1), which took Middletown to the wire on Oct. 8 and blew out Frederick, 42-7, Friday night, will get its crack at Linganore in a Nov. 8 road game. But, first, the Hawks must deal with Thomas Johnson (4-4), which hung around with Middletown for a half before the game got away. The Patriots are clinging to playoff hopes in the Class 3A West by a fingernail at the moment. They must win their final two games against Urbana and Frederick and hope for some serious help.
The Hawks, on the other hand, comfortably sit in the No. 2 spot in the same region at the moment. Gray, in his lightest night of work of the season, carried the ball only seven times against Frederick, but still amassed 144 yards and four touchdowns. He has now carried the ball 200 times this season for 1,632 yards and 20 touchdowns.
Catoctin (5-3), meanwhile, is likely to make the 2A West playoffs after a 30-12 victory over Boonsboro on Thursday night. The Cougars’ only remaining games are at Smithsburg and at Brunswick and they will be big favorites to win both. The question is: Will they be the No. 3 seed in the region and, likely, play South Carroll or will they be the No. 4 team in the region and, likely, play Middletown?
Oakdale (5-3) was sitting in playoff position in the 2A West until being leap-frogged by Catoctin after its upset win over North Hagerstown on Oct. 18. The jump took place even though the Bears beat the Cougars in the season-opener. However, Oakdale is still very much in the thick of the race. The Bears will need to beat Tuscarora (5-3) on the road next week for sure and, perhaps, Middletown on the road Nov. 8 and hope for the best.
As it is, Oakdale can hang its hat on the first winning streak in school history, secured after a 36-0 victory Friday night over Walkersville on Senior Night. It also marked Oakdale’s second consecutive shutout, following a 42-0 home win over Frederick the week before. There is no doubt the Bears have gotten better as the season has progressed.
Believe it or not, Brunswick (3-5) is not out of the playoff chase in the 1A West region. The Railroaders beat Williamsport, 36-14, on the road Friday night as junior running back Seth Wagner had another big game with 178 yards and two touchdowns on 28 carries. Brunswick must, however, win its final two games, both of which are at home, Saturday against North Hagerstown and Nov. 8 against Catoctin to have a chance.
St. John’s Catholic Prep (8-1) was pushed for a change, but still turned back Pallotti, 26-20, at home for its seventh straight win, while Maryland School for the Deaf (7-3) won for the third consecutive time with a 34-14 victory over Model in D.C.