Which team best rebounds from its close intra-county loss last weekend likely will determine who wins Friday night's North Carroll-South Carroll football game.
North Carroll is coming off a 16-14 loss to Westminster, a game that was decided on a bad snap on a quick kick to give the Owls a safety.
South Carroll, meanwhile, fell victim to a stifling Liberty defense (the Cavs only gained 122 yards of total offense) while losing, 14-7, to the Lions.
"Both us and South Carroll are in the same boat," said North Carroll coach Randy Clark, whose team is 1-3 overall and 0-1 in the Central Maryland Conference. "It becomes a very big game for both of us."
Indeed, whoever loses is, for all practical purposes, out of the CMC title hunt. And South Carroll, now 3-1, can't afford another loss this early in the season if it has any playoff hopes.
South Carroll's chore on defense will be to stop North Carroll's Jay Snell-to-Wade Zufall pass plays. Both are the county leaders at their spots.
Snell has completed 31 of 64 attempts for 479 yards and eight touchdowns. Zufall has 16 catches for 297 yards and five touchdowns.
For the Cavs, Paul Marcum has rushed for 325 yards and Joe Goodwin has passed for 379 yards, with the receptions fairly evenly spread out over several receivers.
In other football action, Liberty and Westminster also face important CMC games Friday night.
The Lions (3-1 overall, 1-0 in the CMC) entertain Linganore (same records) at 7:30, and Liberty enters the game with a season-long track record of strong rushing and defense. In Friday's win over South Carroll, the Lions also discovered they could pass when needed, as Joe Brown completed 6 of 10 passes for 99 yards and one touchdown.
The Lancers are coming off a season-opening 29-21 victory over Frederick last Thursday (religious holidays forced some area schools' schedules to change) and are among the favorites in the CMC.
Westminster (3-1, 1-0) is at Thomas Johnson, which fell to 1-3 after losing to Loudin Valley, Va., Friday. The Patriots were held to just six first downs and less than 130 yards of total offense in that contest.
The Owls running game continued to shine Friday night, even though their win was a hard-fought one. Mike Rodgers and cousins Calvin and Boomer Warfield all ran for at least 60 yards and the team gained 257.
Francis Scott Key, which had a golden opportunity to earn its first win of the season last Friday but lost to previously winless Catoctin, 27-0, visits Boonsboro (2-2, 2-1 in the Monocacy Valley Athletic League) of Washington County at 7:30 Friday.
And Western Maryland College (3-1, 2-1 in the CFC) off to its best start since 1981, takes on Randolph-Macon in a non-league game Saturday at 2 p.m. in Ashland, Va.
In other sports this weekend:
* The biggest cross country invitational of the year gets under way at 9:30 Saturday morning at Hereford High in Baltimore County. The Hereford Invitational draws a strong field of schools from Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania and Virginia to the well-known course that is the site of Maryland's state championships.
The interesting match-ups involving Carroll teams include the Westminster, Dulaney and Frederick girls in one race, the Westminster boys taking on some tough out-of-state teams in their race, and the Francis Scott Key boys seeing where they stack up against other Class 1A and MVAL schools.
* In field hockey, several important county games are on tap.
Tomorrow, North Carroll visits Westminster in a match-up of 3-0-1 teams (as of Monday), while Liberty will look for its first victory when the Lions visit surprising South Carroll (3-0-1). Both games are at 7 p.m.
On Monday, South Carroll visits North Carroll Monday at 7 p.m. in a rematch of the 1-1 tie they played to Sept. 25.
* In girls soccer, Key will try to follow the lead of the Eagles boys team, which last week stunned powerful Middletown 3-2. Key's girls play host to Middletown at 7 tonight in what may be an important MVAL contest.
* The Eagles' volleyball team also plays in an important early-season match at league and state power Williamsport tomorrow at 7 p.m. Key lost a close five-game match to the Wildcats last week.
* The big game in boys soccer appears to be Tuesday's Liberty at North Carroll game at 7. Both teams likely will be unbeaten in county action (the Panthers were to play Key last night after press time) and could be unbeaten overall when they clash.
* Plenty could be at stake in all three games when Westminster visits Sykesville Saturday in a Carroll County Football League doubleheader. The two teams are at or near the top of the standings in each division. The C division game starts at 3 at the fields on O'Brecht Road, with the B and A games following at two-hour intervals.